How 45 million Americans (and their meals) are on the line

10 Oct

“What if eating well was the easy thing—and all this grease and corn syrup and salt were difficult? What if we really took the founders at their word and worked to build a nation where life and liberty were free in the fullest sense of the word, where health and sustenance were not considered luxuries, but were so common as to be unworthy of note?”-Tracie McMillan, journalist

We just finished Hunger Action Month, and it’s got me thinking. While I could be writing about my time at French diner or drawing cartoons of shrimp creole, there’s something that’s crowding out everything else: American hunger. With the government shut-down still going full speed ahead (or not moving at all?), now’s a better time than ever for priorities. The central debate is focused on health and budget; when I see the news, all I can think of is how much people have to struggle to get access to good health resources.

While congressmen and the executive branch have their pistols drawn in this growling match, with some not even sure if they get paid (they do), there are still so many average Americans in need.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides families with sustenance via food stamps. October has been full of programs that are being emptied as the month progresses. The $7-billion Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is now worth $125 million. On November 1st, the 45 million Americans that depend on SNAP experience even larger cuts, with the September 19th house bill approving $40 billion in cuts. In some states, assistance is already running dry, and administrators are reaching into state budgets to provide for the federal program. In Michigan, the federally sponsored Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is dwindling in funds and will most certainly be depleted if the shutdown doesn’t end.

80% of the 45 million that depend on SNAP are women and children trying to get any food, while making other ends meet and dealing with anxiety and depression on a large scale (70% of households on SNAP experience some form of depression). Households with children generally depend on food stamps longer than other demographics, but things are still difficult for children. In my home state of South Carolina, 27% of kids deal with hunger. That means 1 in 4 children deal with hunger while also going to school. 64% of South Carolina kids getting free or reduced lunches via school are not getting breakfast. While the government shutdown hasn’t slashed lunch programs at public schools, continued stagnation will definitely end programs soon enough.

November is looming, and what’s scarier than Halloween is that the United States may have to default on its debt then, and the Department of Agriculture will no longer be able to provide food stamp benefits. With a history of Congress failing to meet deadlines, they’re also failing to meet the feeding needs of Americans. But their political parties are satisfied. Their egos are satisfied.

There’s so many perspectives and aspects on the line here: child nutrition, addressing impoverished households, and finding a way to make living healthy a right, not a lifestyle that only the affluent can afford. We are the land of plenty. Maybe we can act like it. It’s a big issue and won’t be solved over night. But maybe we can start while things are shut down.

Works cited and additional resources

  • USDA would be a fantastic resource for finding out the break-down of SNAP benefits; naturally, it’s unavailable “due to the lapse in federal government funding.”
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