Former West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy Outreach Coordinator and current Manna Meal Inc. Executive Director Tara Martinez penned this guest blog piece. Martinez brings a provider perspective that urges Congress to reject cuts to food assistance and pass the Senate Farm Bill. The House version – which dramatically cuts food assistance – and the Senate version – which improves food assistance – are still being debated the bill’s conference committee.
Some of our citizens may not know the Farm Bill has a significant impact on every person in the country. My experience with this massive piece of legislation has been a bit more extensive compared to the average citizen. My work at our state Department of Agriculture for several years allowed me to understand how important this one bill is to so many facets of the country and our state – from the farmer subsidies that allow our farmers to continue and hopefully grow their business to one program that effects hundreds of thousands in our state, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
I watched small farmers in years past worry about how small changes to the Farm Bill would help or hurt their ability to sustain their family businesses. More recently, working for an organization that is a direct provider of meals for those in our community suffering from food insecurity, I see something equally concerning. Over the last couple of years I have watched from a policy perspective the failed outcomes of pilot programs that have cut access to food security assistance at the same time as food insecurity is growing across the nation.
New Agricultural Department data shows that 15 million households with 40 million people struggled to afford enough food at some point in 2017. That means roughly 11.8 percent of households experienced food insecurity. Studies have shown SNAP reduces food insecurity, which can positively impact health and well-being. In West Virginia, roughly 15 percent of households are food insecure.
Throughout the Mountain State, SNAP supports thousands of West Virginians, including more than 130,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, 81,000 workers, 13,000 veterans and around 61,000 persons with disabilities. Continued access to nutrition allows parents to focus on work and kids to focus on school. No West Virginian should have to worry about putting food on the table.
A nine county pilot program administered by WV DHHR corresponded with the numbers of individuals being served at food pantries and soup kitchens to increase. That meant, our neighbors who were already struggling to make ends meet – that barely made it month-to-month with limited income and assistance – finally fell off the edge and had to supplement their families’ food supply by visiting food pantries and soup kitchens.
During the nine-county pilot program, soup kitchens in the area experienced a 30 percent increase in meals served, and West Virginia missed out on $13 million in federal SNAP dollars with 7,310 SNAP caseloads being dropped.
Daily, we see visitors to our soup kitchen who work, those with physical and mental health issues, seniors, children, those suffering from substance use disorder, we see impoverished individuals come in for a meal twice a day. Access to food should not be a worry one has to deal with ever in life. Adding barriers to accessing food is cruel and has the very real consequence of pushing those struggling and barely holding on, over the edge into the abyss of hopelessness.
The individuals visiting our soup kitchen and emergency pantry are holding on for dear life, and any cuts to programs that keep them from falling into deeper poverty are unbelievably destructive to our communities.
Manna Meal is the only soup kitchen open year around, we are here 365 days a year, open weekends, holidays, rain or shine, state of emergency or not our doors are open. Because one day, may be the day one of you needs us. We need to realize that as a society we are at a crossroads, history will be made by the decisions carried out by Congress. Cutting SNAP will be a wound we will not quickly recover from, sending our most vulnerable deeper into poverty. This is not how I want our society to be remembered. We have a duty to create a prosperous society for all. Good policy is the only way to do that…
“There but for the grace of G-d go, I.”
Urge West Virginia senators Capito and Manchin to reject any cuts to food assistance and support the Senate Farm Bill.
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