05/17/2013 11:20 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

SNAP + SNAP Ed = Smart Policy

This week, Congressional committees voted to cut funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and SNAP-Education, which funds programs that help families access healthy food and get the most nutrition from their limited dollars. This is short-sighted and impractical.

The powerful effect that SNAP and SNAP-Ed can have on a family is a story best told not by me but by a woman who has been a part of our No Kid Hungry campaign, Lareese.

Lareese is a busy mother of two. She's trained as a dental assistant, but on-and-off employment in her small town has sometimes made it tough to make ends meet. Her meager income has made it hard to feed her family, but the $1.80 she gets per person per meal through SNAP benefits has made it possible to put food on the table.

She took a six-week cooking and nutrition education course through No Kid Hungry's Cooking Matters, the type of program that SNAP-Ed supports. In Cooking Matters, a chef taught Lareese to cut up a whole chicken, to bake instead of fry and shared ways to stretch ingredients. A nutritionist taught her to read food labels at the store, to watch out for added sugar and sodium, and to find healthier items even when eating out. Each week, Lareese left empowered with a new set of skills. She also left with a bag of groceries, to practice making the healthy meals taught in class.

Dinnertime looks very different at Lareese's house now. Her SNAP benefits last longer than they did before the course - up to a week and a half longer sometimes. She's stretching her dollars primarily by shopping smarter - writing a list, comparing unit prices, and reading food labels. 'This little thing is three gulps and you've had 25 grams of sugar!' Lareese exclaimed about an 8 oz. bottle of mango soda back when we tagged along on a grocery trip.

This is just one example of how nutrition education can make a real difference in the lives of real Americans trying to do the best for their families. Yet Congress today is looking to slash funding for SNAP and SNAP education.

Smart fiscal policy today must look to tomorrow. Ensuring our kids get the healthy food they need through programs like SNAP is a smart investment. Research shows kids who get the healthy food they need are likely to have fewer health problems, do better in school and grow up stronger. Investing in programs like SNAP and SNAP-Ed today will off-set enormous expenses in health-care costs, educational failures and lost wages in the future.

These programs work in unison: parents like Lareese need both benefits to put food on the table, and education to maximize those benefits in a healthy way.

Responsible, proactive policy starts with protecting SNAP. Join me in urging Congress to protect funding for this important program.