Only social workers who deal with childhood hunger every day realize how devastating the COVID-19 pandemic has been for millions of everyday school children who attend school with your children and mine. For many of your children’s classmates, not attending in-person school has meant missing 5 essential meals a week and, in many cases, the bulk of their nutrition.
I Had No Idea!
Case workers tell us that most middle-class American families “have no idea” how many of their friends and neighbors are food insecure.
- During fiscal year 2017, the US spent $70 billion on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - known to most of us as “food stamps”) to help feed more than 40 million Americans.
- In small rural counties, SNAP can be an especially important resource. For example, in May 2018, Pennsylvania’s groceries in 67 rural counties received more than $217 million in SNAP funds.
- In fiscal 2020 so far, 38 million people have already received SNAP benefits in excess of $36 billion.
- The number of people receiving food assistance from a food pantry or onsite meal center (often known as a soup kitchen)—46 million according to Feeding America—is nearly equal to those receiving SNAP. In fact, it may be the case that Americans are more familiar with informal food assistance programs—food banks and food pantries—than the formal federally based program.
Today, SNAP is the most prevalent of the 16 food assistance programs provided by the federal government. It maintains a client's purchasing power by allowing recipients choice in their food shopping.
Our War on Hunger
Surprising to many people, the federal government also provides 15 other food assistance programs. Some programs provide support to children, some to young families, and some to older adults.
- School breakfast and lunch programs (that serve low-income children on a sliding scale of 185% of the poverty level and under) are common across the country.
- The lunches offered in older adult centers and from Meals on Wheels that delivers to homebound older adults, as well as other less well-known programs, such as the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that provides a box of stable foods to older adults are all federal programs that recognize and respond to the needs of our older hungry population.
- The Women, Infants, and Children program, to which social workers working with families routinely make referrals, provides pregnant and nursing mothers and their children up to age 5 with meals and nutritional education.
- Programs such as the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provide commodities for after-school and day care programs and for distribution through food pantries and on-site meal programs also known as soup kitchens.
What Social Workers Say
“We are all too often ready to criticize our federal government’s response to social needs. Those of us who work in the “food insecurity” arena want to say thank you to Congress and the federal agencies that have recognized and responded to the marginalized poor. It has taken unique vision and courage to tackle widespread hunger in the richest country in the world.”