As we all know too well, these are unprecedented times. The incoming Biden-Harris Administration and 117th Congress have an unenviable job of trying to put this country back together, after four years of destruction and dismantling of America’s social safety net programs. From major relief legislation to reversing minor rule changes for various administrative programs, the job ahead for policymakers is multifold. MAZON urges our leaders in government to prioritize solutions to address the growing food insecurity crisis.
The ongoing and growing rates of food insecurity in the United States cannot be solved by charity alone. Congress must expand access to SNAP and continue to increase SNAP benefits. SNAP is a critical lifeline for millions during the COVID pandemic and the 15% benefit increase that Congress passed in the last COVID relief is a good start to help ensure families can put food on the table. The new Congress and Administration must expand on this increase and ensure these benefits do not expire while families face continued economic hardship and uncertainty during the pandemic.
We know that hunger impacts Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color at a disproportionate rate due to factors like systemic racism and sexism in economic opportunity and housing. As the incoming Administration puts forth policies to “build back better,” MAZON believes that marginalized communities should be at the center of policymaking discussions in order to address systemic failures that have left BIPOC communities behind. At the same time, Congress and the Administration must work to end the stigma surrounding those who rely on social safety net programs. MAZON is encouraged that the incoming Administration and the 117th Congress include voices that can speak to how SNAP was an important lifeline for themselves and their families at one point or another in their lives. By changing the narrative around those who utilize such programs will greatly help individuals and families who would benefit from this program, but choose not to out of fear they may be labeled or stigmatized.
In the coming months, MAZON will speak with Administration officials and with Members of Congress and their staff to make our vision a reality in the following ways:
1. Advance proven and effective policy solutions to address hunger that respect human dignity and recognize the individual needs of our diverse communities.
Expand and Support SNAP – We must have robust and unwavering support for federal nutrition safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Strengthening these programs is the best way to fully and effectively meet critical needs, help lift people out of challenging circumstances, repair the gaps that have allowed far too many people to fall through, remove barriers to assistance, and eliminate the unfortunate shame and stigma that persist. We must increase SNAP benefits and revise the calculations for federal poverty guidelines in ways that are consistent with modern reality.
Reverse Harmful Trump Regulations – Now more than ever, we need bold action to remove barriers, expand access, and strengthen administration of federal nutrition assistance programs. Immediately, it is vital to undo the draconian regulatory changes advanced by the Trump Administration, including those affecting SNAP time limits for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs), Changes to the Public Charge laws that threaten vital assistance to low-income immigrant households, and anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals.
2. Shift from a misguided emphasis on charity to strengthening safety net programs that assist millions of Americans.
Charity alone cannot address hunger – We must prioritize a justice-centered approach that appropriately centers systemic changes and policy priorities. Our leaders in government can play an important role in moving the public’s focus away from charities straining to meet the needs of those who are hungry and renew our commitment to strengthen public assistance programs so that they appropriately fulfill our collective responsibility to care for the most vulnerable, support those in times of need, and expand opportunities so that all can reach their full potential. In Deuteronomy 16:20 we are commanded with repetitious emphasis: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” Following this wise and sacred charge, justice must be at the core of our national approach to ending hunger.
3. Center marginalized voices and the experiences of those left behind due to systemic failures.
Highlight the unique needs of special populations that have long been overlooked – The injustices that some groups have faced over many years represent urgent problems, often with solutions within close reach.
MAZON continues to raise awareness about and address the particular food insecurity challenges facing military families, veterans, Native Americans, single mothers, and LGBTQ older adults.
Eliminate the systemic racism and sexism that drive people into and exacerbate food insecurity – It is critical that our federal government address the systemic racism that has historically limited opportunities and compounded discrimination and hardships for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, as well as the forces that have reinforced the feminization of poverty.
4. Reframe the public narrative in how the media portrays hunger and how policymakers approach it.
End demonization of the poor – Our nation’s leaders must set an example and work to reverse the demonization of the poor that has contributed to the erosion of public support for critical safety net programs. Public discussions and policy debates should not judge people nor create responses based on who is the “deserving poor.” The Administration and Congress must highlight how federal programs help people get back on their feet, fuel potential, stimulate local economies, and empower success. We must change the story away from the false myths of “welfare queens” and “takers,” instead shining a light on the life-saving support for individuals who are unable to fully provide for their basic needs and the helpful hand-up for those who have experienced setbacks. Together, we can emphasize how public assistance programs offer compassionate support without judgment and provide pathways to opportunity and success, reflecting the best of who we are as a nation.
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, whose family struggled with food insecurity as a child, said in a recent policy paper that “Food insecurity is not only a symptom of poverty and inequality, but a reflection of our national priority […] Everyone counts in this country, and it’s about time our public policies reflected that fundamental truth.” Smart, thoughtful public policies combined with the political will to enact them can end hunger in America as we know it. Let us all work together to ensure that no one goes hungry in this land of plenty.
Please take action with us today.