New grant program to promote hunger-health connection

January 8, 2016
Screening for SNAP eligibility. Photo courtesy of the USDA.

By Cynthia Woodside, Bread for the World Institute

Bread members and supporters know that public policy change takes time. As people working to end something as large and complex as hunger, we make a virtue of necessities such as persistence and patience.

But progress sometimes comes sooner rather than later. News of a new grant program was released during the first week in January that will add significant knowledge to current research about the hunger-health connection. The grants will test whether addressing patients’ nutritional and social needs improves their health and lowers healthcare costs.

The announcement comes right on the heels of the release of Bread for the World Institute’s 2016 Hunger Report, The Nourishing Effect: Ending Hunger, Improving Health, Reducing Inequality. The report identifies the costly consequences of hunger and food insecurity for human health and for healthcare costs. It includes a study that, using very conservative figures, puts the cost of hunger for the U.S. healthcare system at $160 billion a year.

The new grant program also was launched soon after Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann highlighted the connection between hunger/food insecurity and health to officials in the Obama administration and urged the administration to address it more fully.

Food insecurity – defined as being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle – is associated with higher rates of asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other physical and mental health problems. One study found that food insecurity increases – by nearly 50 percent – the chances that a person will become a high-cost user of healthcare services within five years. And sadly, food insecurity in childhood is a predictor of chronic illness in adulthood.

Under the newly-announced grants, named the Accountable Health Communities Model, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will award up to $157 million over five years to assess the most effective ways to bridge clinical care with social services. The grant awardees, or “bridge organizations,” will oversee the screening of Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries for food insecurity, housing instability, utility needs, interpersonal violence, and transportation limitations, and then help them connect with and navigate the appropriate community-based services.   

The grant program will seek to determine which model of bridging clinical care with social services is most effective in improving people’s health and reducing total healthcare costs, visits to emergency rooms, and readmissions to hospitals.

Eligible grant applicants include community-based organizations, healthcare provider practices, hospitals and health systems, institutions of higher education, local government entities, tribal organizations, and for-profit and not-for-profit local and national entities. Up to 44 grants will be awarded. To be awarded a grant, applicants must partner with at least one state Medicaid agency, one hospital, one provider of primary care services, one provider of behavioral health services, and one community service provider equipped to address the health-related social needs identified through the screenings.

Letters of intent to apply are due to CMS by February 8, 2016; applications are due no later than March 31, 2016. For additional information, see here.   

Cynthia Woodside is a senior domestic policy analyst at Bread for the World Institute

from our Resource Library

For Education

  • The Nourishing Effect

    Hunger and food insecurity add at least $160 billion a year to U.S. healthcare costs.

  • The U.S. Contribution to Ending Global Malnutrition

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  • Fact Sheet: Nutrition During Famine

    Famine means that 20 percent or more of the households in an area have “an extreme lack of food and other basic needs where starvation, death, and destitution are evident.”

    Famine has been declared in two counties of South Sudan, while other areas of South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and...

For Faith

  • The Bible on Health as a Hunger Issue

    A brief examination of the biblical approach to health as a hunger issue.

    Includes an introduction to the issue, a Scriptural reflection, practical actions you can take, and a prayer.

  • Bread Newsletter January 2016

    In this issue: Another Great Year for Bread; Catholics Begin Observance of Holy Year of Mercy; Serving on ‘God’s Wave Length’ for 39 Years; and more.

  • Interfaith Religious Leaders’ Pledge to End Hunger

    A wide array of the nation’s faith leaders have come together on the eve of Pope Francis’ arrival in the United States to commit ourselves to encourage our communities to work for the end of hunger by 2030 and, toward that end, for a shift in U.S. national priorities.

    We are deeply pleased...

For Advocacy

  • Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit

    A set of how-to sheets for carrying out advocacy and fact sheets on the current issues Bread for the World is working on.

    For new and current Bread grassroots hunger activists.

    Ideal as a starter toolkit for new Bread activists or as a set of updates for current activists.


  • The State of Black Poverty: A Pan-African Millennial Perspective on Ending Hunger by 2030

    Over the past year and a half, about two-dozen young adults from the United States and countries in Africa and the Caribbean, have gathered virtually and in person to reflect on the effects of hunger and poverty in black communities. The working group has been considering socio-political and...

  • Fact Sheet: The Hunger-Medicaid Connection

    Congress is considering proposals that would jeopardize healthcare coverage for millions of poor and near-poor adults and children. 

    Legislation under consideration in the House and Senate would gut...