Food security entails access to nutritious, safe and adequate food at all times. Often when thinking of food insecurity, our minds turn to the Global South, where circumstances such as famine and violent conflict can hinder access to proper food, or any food at all. Yet, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2016, 16.5% of American households suffered from food insecurity, translating to a staggering 41.2 million Americans. Often, band-aid or non-permanent solutions to food insecurity, which manifests from systemic poverty, are found in programs like the United States’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and visits to food banks. Although these solutions do not immediately solve systemic poverty, their provision of quick relief is crucial.
SNAP is a government-funded program that provides electronic food stamps to eligible, lower income families to assist them in buying household food items such as bread, meat, fruits and vegetables. In the United States, SNAP users have declined substantially from 2013 to 2017. Yet, this decline has little to do with lessening food insecurity or systemic poverty, and much more to do with the increasing difficulties in becoming a beneficiary of the government-funded program, particularly through reinstated work requirements. According to Newsweek, many republican lawmakers consistently push for increasing eligibility requirements because they supposedly believe that many Americans abuse the welfare system. The magazine quotes republican congressman Garret Graves, who says, “there are talented people across our country who aren’t pursuing the full potential of their capabilities, largely because government incentives make it more profitable in some cases to stay home and collect welfare than to pursue personal growth and responsibility through work.”
In mid-February, Donald Trump’s 2019 budget request proposed a change in the structure of SNAP, in order to save $129 billion over the next 10 years. For families that receive $90 or more in electronic food stamps, 80% of all families receiving assistance, the change would entail cutting the deliverance of food stamps by half to provide a delivered box of food known as “America’s Harvest Box.” The food box would provide shelf-stable food, but would not include fresh fruits and vegetables. The deliverance of the boxes is an unclear plan that would be left to individual states’ discretion.
Many believe the food box is a detrimental shift in the already flawed American welfare system. On February 28th, the Washington Post reported that in 99% of American counties, daily meals cost at times double than the maximum assistance received. With the new shift, not only will many Americans not receive adequate assistance, but they will lose the freedoms to choose what they would like to feed their families, and how they would like to obtain this food; these decisions are based on personal, religious and/or health specific circumstances, as well as varying job schedules. CBS interviewed Larry Jackson, a father of 3 living in Las Vegas, who is a beneficiary of SNAP. He told reporters, “[Trump] is taking away options from the parents who know how to provide best for their children,” and that, “a person who is rich don’t understand what a poor person goes through and what they have to do to survive.”
It is also important to consider the demographics of SNAP participants. In 2013, Pew Research Centre revealed that 31% of African-American adults had used food stamps at points in their life, contrasted with 22% of Hispanic adults and 15% of White Americans. The study revealed these gaps widened along gendered lines, with minority women more likely than minority men to have used food stamps. To cut spending on a program that is already struggling to meet the needs of the country’s poor reduces the chances of mobility and can widen social, racial and gender inequality, and ignores individual needs and freedom of choice.
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