Why is food rotting in farmers’ fields while millions of Americans are facing food insecurity? Why are we forcing vulnerable people to line up for hours and place themselves in unsafe conditions to receive vital nutrition assistance? Why are policymakers hesitating to use every tool at their disposal to ensure that all Americans can feed themselves and their families?
These questions, asked by Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, are a reminder that food insecurity, which is so prevalent in this country, has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. The needs are real, painful, and compelling. More than 60 million people in this country need food assistance.
Hunger in America is embarrassing. It shouldn’t exist in our land of plenty. But it does. While there are things we can do to address it, we need the help of government to solve the problem.
The Jewish community is very much aware of these challenges. Indeed, there are several organizations that deal directly with a range of issues relating to hunger, food insecurity, and basic nutrition. But they need our help. They need food donations, money, and volunteer assistance to help service those in need. And while local food banks provide incredible service to their clients, food banks nationwide are stretched beyond capacity, with systemic issues of poverty exacerbated by the recent dramatic spike in unemployment. As a result, food banks are being called upon to serve an average of close to 60% more clients than they did last year.
This isn’t an issue of blame. It is an issue of survival for those in need. It is an issue of caring for one’s fellow human. And it is the responsibility of government, working in conjunction with people of goodwill, to address the problem.
In March, Congress created the Pandemic EBT program as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The idea was to get meals to recipients of the free school lunch program even though schools were closed by the pandemic. Unfortunately, the emergency allotments were not provided to the approximately 40% of food stamp recipients who were already receiving monthly maximum amounts, since they were found to be ineligible for more assistance. When challenged, a federal court upheld that interpretation — meaning that food stamp households with the lowest income levels were not able to receive any additional benefits under the “emergency allotment” from Congress. That makes no sense.
We need an answer, and we need one quickly. We endorse an expansion of SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the most direct way to provide cash subsidies for those who need to feed their families, without creating a new bureaucracy. Such a move would help low-income families and people who have lost jobs, and provide support for essential workers who use SNAP to help feed their families.
We cannot tolerate an America where children go hungry and people are desperate for food.