Republicans want to cut SNAP benefits — even if 1 in 10 households is food insecure

At the beginning of the epidemic, as well Tens of millions So many Americans suddenly find themselves out of work and food bank lines stretched for milesCongress approved Lifeline legislation To feed people in distress. Emergency spending poured billions of additional dollars into food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps.

A year later, President Biden boost These expanded benefits to ensure they reach participating low-income families. Thanks in part for that and other help assistance programs Launched or expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic, food insecurity has avoided a sharp increase in it happened during the Great Recession.

But at the end of last month, the pandemic era expanded SNAP benefits Expired for more than 30 million people in 35 states and territories, reducing the average monthly food aid for participant from around From $251 to $169, with some groups experiencing larger benefit cuts. Food banks are once again preparing for increased needs, with one in Kentucky reporting a A mile long line After days of cuts. Defenders fear losing the extended benefits – which A.J Congress deal Made in december to keep government running – could send millions more americans away from “Hunger cliff.”

Long line of people waiting in the rain at a food bank.

People wait outside a food bank in Van Nuys, California, on April 9, 2020.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

And while Biden Proposed spending budget Announced earlier this month funding for breakfasts and lunches in low-income school districts and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, the budget stands no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House intact. In fact, the Republican Party in the House has it group scenes About Restricting SNAP Access and reduce its benefitsafter introducing a business requirements bill on March 14 with more bills to come, In Politico.

It should shock the American conscience to plunge into one of the richest and most agriculturally productive countries Cheap food, no less – 1 in 10 families still lives in food insecurity, a grim reality we have become amazingly comfortable with. But hunger, as we learned during and after the pandemic, is a political choice.

Definition of hunger in America

In fiscal year 2021, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) spent $182.5 billion Across 15 food assistance programs, the vast majority are on SNAP—twice as much as they spent before the pandemic hit 2019. On top of programs like SNAP, the agency too supports Part of a sprawling network of some 400 food banks Nationwide – where donated food is stored – along with over 60,000 food pantries and soup kitchens where this food is distributed.

Despite its enormity – and despite the fact that hunger has always been an issue in the Land of Plenty – this network of food aid is relatively new. St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, Arizona, the first real food bank in the United States, opened its doors in 1967, and while its food stamp program has origins In the late 1930s, it did not begin to resemble its current form of SNAP until the 1960s and 1970s.

The government was not inclusive Hunger measure At the time, there was no consensus on how to define it, but that all began to change in the late 1980s. An expert team of nutrition experts, working with the US Department of Health and Human Services, directly Specific hunger Such as discomfort and pain caused by lack of food. They also defined “food insecurity,” a metric far more important in understanding hunger in America—a country where prolonged hunger is rare but the more accurate, long-term state of food insecurity is not. This condition is defined as occurring when there is “limited or uncertain availability of adequate and nutritionally safe foods or limited and uncertain ability to obtain acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”.

In 1995, the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Agriculture seem To measure food security on a large scale with 18 survey questions about household food intake and access over the previous 12 months, and in 2006 began placing households on a level continuity based on their answers. They range from high food security – which means there are no problems or worries about continuous access to food throughout the year – to very low food security, which means that during some periods of the year one or more family members have reduced their portions or skipped meals due to lack of money.

The survey isn’t perfect—it’s based on self-reported data over a 12-month period, so there’s a lag and level of uncertainty—but it gives anti-hunger advocates and policymakers a broad understanding of food insecurity in America. And early in the pandemic, the Census Bureau launched the regular system Family Pulse Surveywhich includes questions about “Food shortage” – sometimes or often meant there was not enough food – which gave somewhat more real-time data on access to food.

Main the findings From food insecurity surveys? The groups most likely to be food insecure are people living below the poverty line, black and Hispanic families, single parents, and families with adult with a disability.

Rural Americans experience food insecurity at higher rates than those in cities, and food security can vary widely by state. For example15.3 percent of Mississippi households are food insecure, while only 5.4 percent of New Hampshire households are (the highest levels of food insecurity in the South).

“When we talk about food insecurity numbers, we’re talking about the people involved — who really face an ongoing struggle — over whether or not they can provide enough food for themselves and their families,” said Elaine Follinger, director of SNAP Foods. Center for Research and Action, an organization that advocates for a stronger food aid policy.

For some, that concern can come and go with one’s financial situation, said Priya Fielding Singh, a sociologist and assistant professor at the University of Utah, who has closely followed food-insecure families for her book. How the Other Half Eats: The Untold Story of Food and Inequality in America. During some periods of the year, a parent may be able to take on more shifts at work and feel more confident about being able to pay for groceries, but emergencies—such as a car accident, broken appliances, or a sudden epidemic—can quickly set them back. in food insecurity.

“Often these types of acute crises lead to food insecurity, where you have to spend the money you would have put into your food for something else,” Fielding Singh said.

Nor can the surveys tell us about the psychological burden of food insecurity, she added: “Feeling like you don’t know if you have enough money to pay for your purchases over the course of a month, or that you don’t know if you will be paid on time in order to prepare Your child’s lunch… I think living with this kind of underlying uncertainty is really psychologically damaging.”

Food insecurity rates It hovered around 10 to 12 percent of households from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, peaking in 2011 at 14.9 percent in the aftermath of the Great Recession and falling back to pre-recession levels by 2017. Thanks to the menu assistance programs over the course of the pandemic, they haven’t gone up again.

However, future projections of food insecurity are ambiguous. As we emerge from the worst of this pandemic, workers are benefiting from it Strong wage growthAnd low unemploymentAnd Higher minimum wageand slowing inflation will both affect how much people can spend on food. But for many low-income families, their future will also depend on the future of SNAP and other food assistance programs, which are under the threat of a brewing war in Congress.

Hunger is a political choice

This obvious does not make it any less true: the most effective way to reduce food insecurity is to reduce poverty, the flows of which are practically declining. Reflecting rates of food insecurity. According to the US Department of Agriculturethe average consumer spends 10.3 percent of their disposable income on food, but for low-income households it’s a staggering 30.6 percent, and about 15 percent for the second-lowest.

While a long-term war is being waged on poverty, there are some short-term battles to be fought as well.

Nutrition Research and Action Center has Long wish list For the Biden administration and Congress to boost federal food assistance, from expensive items like increased benefits to expanding SNAP access to low-income college students.

Simply increasing registration can go a long way. SNAP sharing among eligible persons is relatively high (82 percent), but this is not the case for WIC: in 2019, enrollment was at 57 percent because of a a variety of factors, including confusion about eligibility and restrictions on what can be purchased. And as of 2020, WIC benefits were still issued on paper coupons in many states, rather than a debit card, adding to the stigma (SNAP has been issued via debit cards since 2004).

back to Free universal school lunch, a pandemic-era policy that ended late last year. “If a child is hungry, that is all he thinks about all day,” the director of food and nutrition for a Connecticut public school district Tell Anna North from Fox. “If we don’t prioritize hungry children, I don’t know what we prioritize. I don’t know what is more important than that.”

A student eating from a plate of beans, apples, and tortilla chips.

A student at a New York City public school that instituted a free school lunch scheme in 2017.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Not only will a universal free school lunch reduce food insecurity, it can also help improve childhood education: After New York City launched a universal free school lunch in 2017, Math and reading test scores to improve.

If Congress does not act on this issue, the onus will fall on the states. Some countries, such as Massachusetts and Nevadaextended the universal free school lunch until the end of the 2023 school year, while California And who He went further, making the Universal Free Lunch and Breakfast permanent, which went into effect at the beginning of this current school year (New Mexico’s governor is expected to sign similar legislation into law). almost). Most Colorado Public school students will receive free lunch and breakfast next school year, and other countries They think about free breakfast and lunch programs, too.

“This is a really exciting trend,” said Fielding Singh. “And before the pandemic, that was politically unfeasible.”

But the pandemic-era massive expansion of the welfare state has taken its toll greatly reduced over the past year as the immediate threat of Covid-19 receded. House, now under Republican control, has named To reduce SNAP benefits for childless adults, Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced legislation On Tuesday that raised the maximum age for work requirements from 49 to 65, changes that would ensure an increase in food insecurity for children and adults.

A SNAP supporter at a press conference given by Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA) in 2018, urging lawmakers to reject proposed cuts to SNAP.
Sarah Silbiger/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

It’s the first shot fired in what could be an ugly fight over amendments to SNAP in negotiations for this year’s Farm Bill, which is rewritten every five years (SNAP accounts for nearly 80 percent of bill spending).

This frustrates advocates like Follinger, who points out Strong support for food assistance programs, even among conservatives. “It’s not like this is a case where we don’t know what to do,” Follinger said. “There are very clear strategies that are workable and doable, if there is the political will to do them.”

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