by Lindsay Smith
Washington Regional Food Funders
In the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, SNAP served more than 1.8 million people last year. (Some local studies also suggest that not all of those eligible for these benefits received them.) Federal programs like SNAP, the school lunch program, and WIC, support millions of people in D.C., MD, and VA. Cutting these programs places additional demands on our region’s emergency food service providers to meet the nutritional needs of low-income community members.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming clearer everyday that some in Congress are intent on cutting SNAP again when what’s needed is the opposite. Last summer, Charles Meng of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) attributed a 40 percent increase in the number of people AFAC was serving in just one year to a cut in SNAP benefits, and the expiration of unemployment benefits. He explained:
“This is unlike a recession situation when we see people coming to us, and when the recession eases, they’d be leaving us…we’re not seeing that, these are basically going to be our clients on a long-term basis because this is a structural change to the funding available from the feds.”
Continued funding for emergency food assistance is critical but so is supporting policy change if we hope to eliminate hunger and improve health.
I encourage funders to support our region’s emergency food service providers and:
- Talk with them about their programmatic aspirations and where there may be opportunities to build a stronger regional food system in the process. A number are working to increase healthy food options as demand for this increases.
- Ask what federal and local policy changes would make a difference to their clients’ ability to access healthy food, and if the organization is in a position to support their clients to share stories about the impact of food insecurity on their lives.
- Use your own voice to talk with legislators about the impact of a weakened social safety net on your grantees and the communities they serve. Sharing your own story is not lobbying, though it’s always useful to review the differences between lobbying and advocacy.
One priority a new report from the Food and Agriculture Policy Collaborative calls for is protecting and improving SNAP to ensure that Americans don’t go hungry and to help build a more sustainable food system. Doing so will require funders to consider their ability to invest in longer term policy change. There are proven well-established advocates, and new ones, who can sustain the campaign needed to eliminate hunger and build a more sustainable food system. In the near term, they’ll need support to demonstrate the short-sighted nature of cutting effective programs like SNAP. They also need support to continue to broaden their coalitions and to identify strategic opportunities to change the narrative on SNAP – improving the program can reduce hunger and its costly consequences even more than it does now.
Lindsay Smith coordinates the work of Washington Regional Food Funders (WRFF), a working group of WRAG. On May 7, 2015, WRAG will offer Food Security 101 for WRAG members in partnership with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region to examine some of the themes raised in this post in greater detail, and how it relates to our broader regional food system.