As we're scrambling to fix health care, food stamps are quietly paying off.

No one should have to choose between food and medicine. For many low-income people with chronic illnesses, however, it's a decision far too familiar.

Seth Berkowitz, a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, recalls a woman — a mother — who ended up in the hospital with dangerously high blood pressure. The woman had a prescription for a medication to keep her blood pressure down, but she hadn't filled it because it was nearing the end of the school year and her kids' final tests were coming up. Faced with the option of paying for a prescription she needed or making sure her kids weren’t going into their tests hungry, she chose to feed her kids.

This is not an uncommon dilemma. When Berkowitz conducted a study on the subject back in 2014, he discovered that a third of the chronically ill patients he saw couldn't afford both food and medication.


By skipping medications in favor of paying for food, people and families often end up spending more on health care in the long run. Medical emergencies are expensive — even just a ride in an ambulance can cost several thousands of dollars — and skipping regular checkups or other preventive care can lead to more costly problems further down the line.

Seeing firsthand how food insecurity forces people to make tough decisions, Berkowitz began work on a follow-up study.

Does helping people afford food lower their overall medical bills?

According to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine by Berkowitz and colleagues, food assistance through the American government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could help low-income individuals and families save on their medical bills.

SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — is a federal program that gives low-income individuals money to spend on food. The exact implementation varies state by state, but overall about 1 in 7 Americans get help through the program.

Though the program may have started with stamps and paper bills, today funds are distributed through government issued EBT cards like this one. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Berkowitz’s study looked at roughly 4,400 low-income adults, about 40% of whom were on SNAP. When Berkowitz’s team compared how much the average person in each group was spending on health care, they found the SNAP group spent about $1,400 less per year.

For comparison, the average single adult on SNAP receives about $1,500 a year in benefits.

What can we do with this knowledge?

Berkowitz’s study wasn’t able to pinpoint why these savings happen, but they have some ideas. People with SNAP benefits — now better able to feed their families — may be more likely to get their necessary prescriptions and checkups. Being able to afford healthier food might also be a factor.

This market in New York City both accepts SNAP funds and rewards the purchase of fresh fruit and vegetables with vouchers. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

This research is especially timely as America is searching for a way to decrease its massive health care bill.

By understanding how social programs help keep people out of the hospital in the first place, studies like this one can help us understand how to keep spending down.

Not to mention how to make sure moms like Berkowitz’s patient can both feed their kids and fill their prescriptions too.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."