Last week, I wrote about the continued need for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), particularly in the wake of the automatic benefit cuts that began on November 1. It is fortunately the time of year when people give generously to food banks and food pantries, but they are unable to fully meet the need in their communities, particularly if the program were to suffer deeper cuts.
Over the holiday weekend, I saw heart-wrenching news stories from across the country illustrating the impact of cuts through the personal stories of children and families that are using SNAP to get back on their feet.
I've included a few compelling stories below, but these barely scratch the surface of what folks are experiencing across the country.
In Chicago, NBC-5 interviewed the Chicago Food Depository executive director and CEO Kate Maehr about the ongoing need in the Chicago area. Said Maehr, "One in six people don't know where they are going to get their next meal. The challenge is, you don't walk down the street and immediately know who the hungry person is. It might be your neighbor it might be a child in your child's classroom, but it's one in six people here in Cook County."
In south Texas, the Valley Morning Star reports that the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley is "seeing an increase in requests for assistance--from the middle class and veterans."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, many working people that are also using SNAP have turned to food pantries for additional help. "People have been coming into food pantries on their lunch breaks," said Jessie Marushak, director of development with the Bucks County Opportunity Council. "[...] We never saw need like we see now."
In Kentucky, where 350,000 children get help from SNAP, the Wayside Christian Mission tells WAVE3 News that "The clients I talk to are suffering, they're struggling to make ends meet."
The Tacoma News Tribune reports that many of the families served by St. Leo's Food Connection in Tacoma, Washington are working and using SNAP, but need additional help. St. Leo's operations coordinator Dawn Whitman said "So many of them [jobs] don't provide a living wage these days, so people are just needing that extra support in their community to be able to make ends meet with their families."
The Compassion Center in Little Rock, Arkansas tells KARK4 News, "We're seeing the face of the homeless changing because now we're starting to see a lot of the working poor. People are being cut back to 25 hours a week, and they just cannot make ends meet."
As we move through the month of December and the holiday season, it's important to remember the millions of hardworking Americans who are continuing to rebuild with the help of SNAP--and that real people suffer when the program is cut.
Congress must act quickly to pass a comprehensive, long-term Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that preserves and protects our nutrition safety net to give folks in Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington State, and across the country the stability they need as they recover, rebuild and move off of SNAP.
Follow Kevin W. Concannon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/USDANutrition