Raising awareness about SNAP and hunger

Bags of nonperishable food items. Joseph Terranova for Bread for the World

By Jordan Kreikemeier

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides millions of eligible low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to purchase nutritious food.

SNAP alone moved 4.6 million Americans out of poverty in 2015.

It is devastating that the Trump administration is proposing cuts to SNAP – a 21 percent cut to the Department of Agriculture, which funds SNAP and other food assistance programs. These cuts present a threat to the U.S. nutritional standards and the lives of individuals using this safety net.

Starting this week, I am taking part in the SNAP Challenge to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy diet and how hunger can hinder that goal. I’ll be purchasing food with my $35 SNAP stipend, which is what I would receive weekly if I was an actual SNAP beneficiary.

The USDA sets both SNAP benefit allocations and the nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet. Using the USDA’s MyPlate, I plan to evaluate whether the food I purchase can meet the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines. I have my doubts.

As an aspiring social worker, a tool I often refer to is the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is a five-tier model that proposes that people are motivated to fulfill their basic needs first (such as food) before moving on to other more advanced or complex needs such as psychological needs.

As a privileged person, I have never experienced true hunger. I do not know what it is like to be constantly thinking about food or wondering where my next meal will come from.  As a person of faith, a citizen of the U.S., and a future social worker, I believe it is my responsibility to help others access food when they are without. To be a strong advocate, I need to better understand the lived experiences of those who are food-insecure.

Taking part in the SNAP Challenge will help me better connect with those who are hungry and hopefully understand how to improve the system that is supposed to aid food-insecure individuals, especially children, who rely on us all to have success in that first tier.

In fact, over 13 million children in United States lived in food-insecure households in 2015. Despite the success of SNAP in recent years, this is proof that current levels of funding and standards of nutrition need to be increased. Forty-four percent of SNAP recipients are children, in the critical stages of brain and physical development, as well as social development such as self-esteem and personal worth.

While current SNAP funding levels may be able to provide the calories for children through cheaper foods, such as bread and rice, funding and education focused on food containing vitamins and nutrients are proven to help children lead healthier, successful lives. Focusing on quality instead of quantity will help lift more individuals out of hunger and have long-term success.

Bread is an advocate on the importance of nutrition for proper development of children in all life stages. America’s society, economy, and safety depends on the health and happiness of its citizens. My guess is that I will not be able to meet the MyPlate requirements with SNAP, and I am hoping to learn more about the system and myself in this process. I will follow up post-SNAP challenge to pass on my experience and what I learned.

Jordan Kreikemeier is government relations intern at Bread for the World.

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