Most people remain unaware of those struggling with hunger in their community and the network of services and programs necessary to help them. That’s why September is Hunger Action Month — 30 days dedicated to raising awareness at the grassroots level about this under-recognized social and public health issue.
Today, Congress is poised to slash our first line of defense against hunger, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps).
Nearly eight percent of people living in Attleboro and its environs are food insecure, slightly better than the 10 percent average across Eastern Massachusetts. The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) works with over 50 food pantries, meal programs and shelters in the area to distribute the equivalent of more than four million healthy meals a year to those in need. Across Eastern Massachusetts, we partner with more than 500.
Food insecurity means not having reliable access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Medical research has shown that adults suffering from food insecurity report poor physical and mental health, and have higher risks for chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes and depression. Children not getting enough food suffer impaired growth and development and are at higher risk for asthma and anemia.
To address food insecurity, though, we must be able to identify it, and in the past year GBFB launched partnerships with health centers across our service area to support food insecurity screenings of patients and increase patient access to healthy food. In most cases, the centers have found their patient food insecurity rate is higher — as much as six times higher — than the Eastern Massachusetts rate of 10 percent.
Many of the food insecure are hard-working families who just don’t earn enough to make ends meet. In Bristol County, a family with two working adults and two children needs to earn $65,500 a year combined to afford their basic expenses, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator. Two adults earning our state minimum wage of $11 an hour bring home $46,000 a year. A family in this situation would at least be eligible for SNAP benefits.
Yet, about a third of those living with food insecurity earn too much to qualify for federal nutrition assistance programs like SNAP. Even those receiving SNAP run out of benefits before the end of the month and must turn to their local food pantry for help.
The House Budget Committee recently proposed $160 billion in cuts to SNAP, to be implemented over the next ten years. These cuts would dramatically impact the 750,000 food-insecure Massachusetts residents receiving SNAP benefits.
We call on Congress to reject these reductions, which will lead not only to more people struggling with hunger, but also fewer resources to help them. Hunger is a non-partisan issue, and no one in our state — or in our country — should ever go hungry.