Texans on SNAP, formerly food stamps, are mostly working families with children. The program allows children to have better, more reliable diets than they would otherwise, and that is something essential to kids' long-term health and success. Unfortunately, families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program stand to lose an average of $53 per month in their food budget, if a plan pending in Congress right now to "block grant" the program, instead of basing it on need, is enacted. By contrast, a strong SNAP program would help Texas reverse a trend as the state with one of the nation's highest food-insecurity rates for children. Last fall, our Health Policy Coordinator Lauren Dimitry participated in the last days of the Texas Food Bank Network's Food Stamp Challenge, when volunteers were asked to try eating, not on the current individual SNAP allowance of $4.50 per day, but on the budget once the cuts are enacted: just $3.70 per day. Here is Lauren's account of that experience:
What struck me the most about the challenge was not how hungry I was (because believe me, inexpensive bread does not stick around very long) or how limited my options were. Sadly, I guess I expected these things. What struck me the most was how tired I was of eating the same things after only two days. With a total of $7.40 to spend for two days, my meals were a merry-go-round of bread, peanut butter, and beans.
As someone who loves food and loves to cook, this really saddened me. I had the overwhelming sense of what it must be like to want to try a new recipe, but also not want to risk it because the reality is you can’t afford to experiment when you're living on $3.70 a day. I didn't know trying new things was a luxury, but, sadly, I think for many families living on SNAP it must be. To make matters worse, all I kept thinking about was what I was going to eat when I finished the challenge--definitely not the reality of families on SNAP.
As my mediocre meals on Day One turned into meals I'd rather not eat or look at on Day Two, I really started to worry about how a food program landed on the chopping block. Isn't food as necessary to life as air and water? Just try telling my southern Louisiana Grandma it's not. She grew up during the Great Depression and knew a little something about hard times and the importance of nutritious meals. I grew up being comforted by food, not worried or stressed. My roots have taught me to love and appreciate what I put in my body, and the fact that food has such a limited and tenuous existence for so many American children and families makes me worry. How did we get to a place where basic food is optional?
I'm a Virgo: I worry, I can't help it, but I've had some time to think about it now, and I'm afraid to say, in this case, I think we really should be worried. I don't know how creating more food insecurity and jeopardizing the early years of low-income children became an option for trimming the budget, but there are better ways to address this problem. I am confident that strengthening program effectiveness, not weakening basic supports, will help parents give their children the nutrition they need, and the health that will make them thrive. Growing up, it didn't matter who showed up at my Grandma Dimitry's table: she was going to feed them. For the first time, I have the distinct feeling there was a lesson in that.