You may think you know what food insecurity looks like, but you haven't met this family.
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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Jillian Hollingsworth paid a steep price to stay home while her children were young.

With no maternity leave plan at her job in South Carolina and the high cost of daycare, she had quit to stay home to take care of her babies. But, that job had provided health insurance for her whole family, so her husband, Wesley, found a new state government job that had health benefits. The only problem? It paid about half of what his previous job had, leaving them in a tough situation.

“Our financial situation just nose-dived,” says Hollingsworth.


“We were struggling. I mean, we had a mortgage, car payments, and student loans,” she continues.

But she knew the cost of daycare was too high (it would've sapped all the extra income she could have earned working) and she wanted to be there for her kids.

Photo via istock.

She wanted to be home with her children because she knew how important bonding with a parent can be for their development.

But after their second child was born, the couple learned they qualified for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

For more than 50 years, SNAP has offered nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income families. It’s the largest national program to provide families support to put food on the table when they need  it most.  

Benefits used to come in the form of food stamps, but after 2004, recipients in all states could use an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card as part of this program. It looks just like a credit/debit card, which reduces fraud and provides more dignity and convenience to those it helps.

Jillian and Wesley were both college graduates, and had maintained regular employment, but they just couldn’t make ends meet after they had children.

Image via iStock.

“I don’t think anyone in our family has ever been on food assistance, but it’s not something we were ashamed of,” says Hollingsworth. “We were so thankful that program existed to help us.”

About 34% of South Carolina’s children received SNAP benefits in 2015, according to a 2017 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Nationwide, in a typical month, SNAP helps feed 20 million children.

That’s one in four children in the United States.

SNAP is helping stabilize food-insecure households, which gives kids a better shot at a healthy, happy life. Food insecurity is about more than being hungry. Malnourishment can affect not only a child’s health, but school performance and behavior. That, in turn, can alter their chance at success later in life.

But, just by eating healthy, regular meals made possible by SNAP, kids are getting sick less often and doing better in school. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP participation can lead to gains in reading and math skills among elementary school children, especially young girls, and increase their chances of graduating from high school.

Image via iStock.

With help from SNAP, Hollingsworth could buy fresh, nutritious food for her children as she taught them to eat solid foods.

A bigger food budget meant better choices were available, not just $1 menu deals at fast-food joints, boxes of mac-n-cheese, and convenience-store grub.

Plus, many farmers markets now accept SNAP, making it even easier to get locally-sourced, fresh food. Between 2009 and 2015, the amount of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets actually quadrupled, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

And that's great news for families like Hollingsworth's.

It’s especially nice to have more options when you’re a family strapped for cash, she says, because that’s often not the case. You can feel pulled in all directions with limited resources to meet your family’s needs. But SNAP provides low-income families with benefits to buy food which frees up additional income to pay bills. Hollingsworth appreciated that priority.

Today, Hollingsworth and her husband no longer need SNAP to feed their children.

After all, they never meant for it to be a long-term solution, but it was there to help them when they needed it most.

SNAP is designed to be temporary, requiring a renewal process every three or six months.

Image via iStock.

While receiving SNAP and taking care of her babies, Hollingsworth baby-sat for other children and studied to be a doula. And once her studies were complete, she was able to increase her earning potential. Those efforts, plus her husband’s work promotion, enabled them to get off SNAP within a year and a half.

However, they’re forever grateful for how SNAP helped her family.

“SNAP was very helpful while we had it. It’s built into society to help people just like us. People think if you’re on government programs, you’re living beyond your means or you’re lazy. But that’s not the case,” says Hollingsworth. “My husband was working every day. We were working towards being in a position so I could work and be with my kids, and we did that.”

Today, they have three healthy, happy children, and Hollingsworth attributes some of that to SNAP’s role in their early growth.

The needs of many families like theirs, considered the “working poor,” fall through the cracks. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 8.6 million working poor Americans in 2015 — those who work hard but are still below the poverty line. Many don’t believe they can qualify for this resource until they get back on their feet.

SNAP is one of the simplest ways for food-insecure families to put healthy food back on the table. The more families who know about it, and learn how much it can help, the more children will grow up with brighter futures.

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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