Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why Haven't Food Stamps Ended Hunger in the U.S.?

I recently had an email conversation with a neighbor who surprised me with a question when I asked her if she would consider making a donation to RESULTS to help us continue to advocate for anti-hunger programs:

"Can you explain to me why, with the food stamp program, WIC and the school lunch program, there is still hunger in the U.S.? I am asking this as a naive person who donates to food pantries and food charities...."

I suppose I was surprised because, like many Americans, I spend increasingly more time inside my own "bubble" automatically crafted by the social media platforms I use (so handy to the user...and still seems weird and sneaky, doesn't it?) and naturally curated by the non-profit organizations I work with. But her question is a legitimate one that I feel not enough Americans - and certainly not enough members of Congress - are asking with the good intention of learning. 

Given the good-natured tone of her email, I think that she really is seeking to understand, so I sent her an answer...and me being wordy ol' me, I might have been more than she was looking for. We'll see how that goes! In the meantime, I thought I might post it here since readers of my blog might be either wondering the same thing or wondering how to respond to someone who asks them something similar. Here's an edited version...a little shorter in some areas and a little longer where I thought some clarification was needed. Please let me know in the comments if you have something to add or a different answer completely!

Thank you for your question…it’s one that more members of Congress should be asking! The food stamp program (now known as SNAP- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (Women, Infants, and Children Food & Nutrition Service), and school lunches are great programs that create a safety net, but not a complete answer…and they are constantly under threat. Taking a look at SNAP specifically, it was meant to be an emergency-type assistance program…not meant to keep people fed forever. Here’s a quick statement taken from the Center on Budget and Policiy Priorities statistics (https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/a-quick-guide-to-snap-eligibility-and-benefits ): 
"On average, SNAP households received about $253 a month in fiscal year 2018. The average SNAP benefit per person was about $126 per month, which works out to about $1.40 per person per meal." 
As many people who do the “food stamp challenge” (eating on only $1.40 per meal for a week or two) quickly find out for themselves, it’s extremely hard to eat a healthy, balanced diet on $1.40 per meal. When you break it down like that, it's no wonder people are still hungry! Even if you are adding this small amount to WIC (not available to everyone), a breakfast or program for kids (also not available to everyone), a minimum wage income, and assistance from a food pantry (where you don’t always get to pick the kind of food you need), the kind of diet you can afford is going to be filled with the cheapest, processed food made from corn and wheat instead of fresh vegetables. That skewed pricing is a result of our outdated Farm Bill that artificially subsidizes those corn and other crops and makes that kind of food super cheap. As you can guess, that diet leads to all kinds of health issues like malnutrition, diabetes, and poor immune systems just to name a few. 
The reasons for persistent hunger in the US are complex (involving low wages, farm subsidies, under-funded nutrition assistance, job availability, racial oppression, etc). I’m not even an expert on it because I’m an advocate who focuses on global hunger issues, but I learn quite a lot from my colleagues in RESULTS who work on the U.S. poverty. My favorite advocates to learn from our our “Experts on Poverty,” activists currently living in poverty who receive training to speak openly about their daily challenges. If you want to know more, I bet you can find some good information at our website www.RESULTS.org or I’d be happy to put you in touch with our U.S. poverty group here in St. Louis. 
If you’re interested in a really great documentary about this issue, "A Place at the Table” does an excellent job of bringing a lot of these problematic policies while highlighting the stories of people affected by them…a school girl, a veteran, a teacher, a doctor. Here’s a trailer for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Stx5PGsFj20 but you can see clips of it on youtube.
Maybe that’s more than you wanted to know! :)  But that’s the kind of thorough information that RESULTS teaches advocates so that we can knowledgeably talk to our members of Congress about solutions. We’d be happy to have your participation if you'd like to join us at www.RESULTS.org or your support of our organization at https://tinyurl.com/ThanksSTL 


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