Kathryn Shirley (Courtesy photo)

Trinidad Luna is a Los Angeles resident living with type 2 diabetes and amputations below both knees who relies on monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, known as CalFresh in California, to support his dietary needs.

This March, Trinidad saw his monthly benefits reduced from $215 to a meager $25 as the emergency allotments added to CalFresh participants benefits during the pandemic ended.

Trinidad is one of roughly 1.5 million people, or nearly 950,000 households, in Los Angeles County who are impacted by the drastic cuts to their monthly CalFresh benefits. And it comes at a time when soaring inflation has caused a significant spike in the prices of even the most basic foods.

As a former chef, Trinidad knows how to stretch a dollar and get creative with the money he has. But now, with a food budget of 83 cents a day, he finds it nearly impossible to put food on the table, let alone the healthy food he needs to keep his blood sugar stable. Left with no other choice, Trinidad braces to cut down to just one meal a day.

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The so-called “CalFresh Cliff” or “Hunger Cliff” will be devastating to many people in LA County where 1 in 4 households are already experiencing food insecurity. These cuts will cause even more hardship among Black and Latino residents most impacted by food insecurity, and in seniors and people with certain disabilities who struggle to get what they need, often having to travel long distances to buy food that they can afford. Like Trinidad, who lives across the street from a grocery store he can’t afford to shop at and instead commutes to another store where his money can go farther.

What we eat and drink across our lifespan greatly impacts our heart and brain health. In fact, food insecurity is associated with chronic conditions, including heart disease, stroke, obesity and diabetes. It also contributes to disparities in chronic disease outcomes, especially for cardiovascular diseases.

Achieving equity in nutrition security requires coordinated and sustained efforts at the federal, state and local levels. That is why we are working with lawmakers and fellow advocates like Hunger Action Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, United Parents and Students and the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College to advance policies and programs that promote equitable and consistent access to nutritious food.

We are asking the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to make an expanded and sustained investment of $6 million annually in healthy food incentives programs like Market Match to help mitigate the impact of the CalFresh Cliff and address the chronic issue of food and nutrition insecurity in the county.

Market Match helps people stretch their healthy food dollars by doubling the value of CalFresh funds people use to buy fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and retail stores. It also supports the local economy, particularly small and midsized farmers and retailers. The LA County Food Equity Roundtable, a collaboration of public, private and nonprofit stakeholders, recommends this program as a strategy to end food insecurity.

Recognizing County investment alone cannot meet the needs of the entire food insecure population in LA, the Association also calls for the passage of Assembly Bill 605, authored by California Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, to expand the California fruit and vegetable supplemental benefit program.

The American Heart Association believes that every person deserves the opportunity to live a full, healthy life. And longer, healthier lives for all cannot be achieved without nutrition security.

I encourage everyone reading this to call their local legislators and urge them to support these lifesaving measures.

When I spoke with Trinidad, he asked, “How did they come up with the amount and say that it’s okay to live on?” Think about what you can eat with $25 a month, or 83 cents a day.

While sustained Market Match funding and the expansion of the supplemental fruit and vegetable program will not solve the crisis, they could provide a critical lifeline for families and individuals like Trinidad who live with the reality of being food insecure and the possibility of having to skip meals or going hungry altogether.

Kathryn Shirley is a board member of the American Heart Association Los Angeles and the American Heart Association Western States. She is also the president at World Management Solutions, Inc.