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By Shimica Gaskins
My parents both worked full-time jobs. Yet, in 1994, they made less than $15,000 a year. Times were tough. Feeding a family of five on their salaries became increasingly difficult. I still remember the day that I accompanied my mother to the local Department of Health and Family Services to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps). I could tell she was embarrassed to stand in that long line and ask for help to feed her children. She was college-educated, worked two jobs, and never envisioned herself seeking government assistance. I was in high school and working at a local grocery store to help contribute. But even with three incomes, we still did not have enough food by the end of each month. Even now it’s hard to fathom how a hard-working family – like mine and so many others – could be in such a situation. How can children and families go hungry every night in America, a country with so much wealth? The answers to this question are often multifaceted and include low-wages and lack of opportunities. But the solutions are not complicated.
Since 1974, SNAP (originally the Food Stamp Program, called CalFresh in California) has provided hundreds of millions of children and families the food needed to combat severe hunger in America. And despite the fact that 48.8 million Americans – including 13 million children – live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis, SNAP is one of the many programs that President Trump’s proposed budget plans to cut by $193 billion over the next 10 years, an unprecedented 25 percent cut to nutrition assistance for low-income families. This week, House Republicans moved forward with a budget resolution that includes substantial cuts to SNAP as part of a plan that will shred America’s safety net and exacerbate child hunger and poverty.
SNAP has proven to be a successful policy that lifted 8.4 million people, including 3.8 million children, out of poverty in 2014, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Research shows that those who had access to SNAP benefits during childhood grow up to be healthier as adults, and women who benefited from SNAP as young children were more likely to become economically self-sufficient. The research also indicates that access to food stamps increases high school graduation rates. My own personal story exemplifies this research.
For my family, SNAP helped us through those tough times and taught us how easily a working, educated family can become food insecure. It only takes one job loss or a medical illness or injury to limit a low-income family’s ability to meet its basic needs. My parents went on to run a local food bank for almost a decade. Today, my mother leads her local school district’s Food Service Operations and works with the National School Lunch Program to ensure that children eat a balanced meal at school. I went on to graduate from college and law school. I now have the privilege to lead CDF-CA as its executive director and work alongside the great child defender, Marian Wright Edelman. She has been fighting to ensure children do not go hungry in America for over 40 years. Just this week thousands of children across the country participated in CDF’s 2017 National Day of Social Action on child hunger. They marched and rallied carrying empty plates representing the millions of children who go hungry every year to highlight the need for programs and funding to support child health, nutrition and development. We must join Marian Wright Edelman and our youth to insist federal and state nutrition programs remain a budget priority. President Trump’s proposed budget cuts are ill-advised and horrifying. Children cannot be expected to succeed when they do not even have food to nourish their bodies, hearts and minds. We cannot go backwards and we must remember, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”