New York advocates advance agenda with elected officials

New York advocates advance agenda with elected officials

Top left and top right, advocates Melinda Murray and David Ping, chair of the Eastern States Regional Board, join Caitlin O’Brien, New York State Government Relations Director of the American Heart Association, during New York’s Digital Lobby Week. Amy Grover, bottom left, joined the group who met with staff, bottom right, from state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ office.

Advocates for the American Heart Association, whose mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives, are holding Zoom meetings with over 20 elected representatives this week, to convince them to include items to improve the health of all New Yorkers in the 2021 budget.

One item can bring much-needed revenue to the state: an increase to the tobacco tax.

“It’s been 10 years since we increased the tax on tobacco,” said Bill Galvin, member of the Capital Region Board of Directors of the American Heart Association and parent of a child born with a congenital heart defect. “That tax has gotten stale. A $1 cigarette tax would keep 22,200 youth from using tobacco, help 53,900 adults quit, and would generate $38.8 million in new revenue. Tobacco use is a leading risk factor for heart disease. The World Health Organization has stated that smokers are likely more vulnerable to severe and potentially life-threatening cases of COVID-19. We need this tax.”

Heart Association advocates are also asking the state to fund the Double Up Food Bucks program, which is a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) incentive.

Double Up matches SNAP benefits dollar for dollar, up to $20 a day, for purchases of local fruits & vegetables.

Double Up can increase spending on fruits and vegetables in grocery stores, which generates economic growth,” Galvin said.  “On average, every $5 spent using SNAP generates as much as $9 in economic activity. These incentives have decreased the purchasing of empty-calorie foods such as cookies, chips, and candy.”

Ninety-six percent of Double Up customers said their families are eating more fruits and vegetables and Double Up is active at more than 100 sites across New York. To continue growing, the program needs funding.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is better for heart health than empty calories.

Public health programs that are facing 20% cuts in the Governor’s budget will be revisited as advocates meet with their elected officials. Specifically, the American Heart Association is asking that funding be kept at $5.9 million for the Obesity Prevention Program and $692,000 for the Healthy Heart/ Hypertension Program.

“Given the link between COVID-19 and underlying cardiovascular conditions, patients with existing cardiovascular disease or CVD risk factors including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, may be at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19, including death,” said Galvin.

Among New York adults, the obesity rate is 27.6%, and 14.4% among youth. The breakdown of obesity by race shows a disparity: 25.7% white, 34.1% Black, and 29.4% Latinx. 1,634,000, or 10.5% of the adult population has diabetes.

“These programs work in the community, schools, and workplaces implementing programs to control and reduce the major risk factors associated with CVD,” Galvin said.  “The programs function in 82 school districts, with an estimated reach of 500,000 students, and in 245 communities, with an estimated reach of 4.6 million people.

The cuts to these programs do not produce big savings, but they do damage to health. An upfront investment in prevention saves lives and money.“

“We understand the need to be judicious with spending this year,” said Galvin. “But to underfund programs that lead to better health for New Yorkers just moves the costs to another day. Investing in preventative health programs now saves Medicaid expenses later – and lets people lead fuller, healthier lives in the interim.  Even in this time of COVID, heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of all Americans, and stroke remains No. 5. We are seeing a connection between heart disease and COVID, so we call on our elected officials to invest fully in programs that prevent heart disease and stroke.”