Responding to “America at Hunger’s Edge” (New York Times Magazine)

Abby J. Leibman
September 21, 2020

Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO, has a letter to the editor in this week’s The New York Times Magazine about the cover story “America At Hunger’s Edge” of their 9.6.20 issue. Here is the text of her full letter:

I was grateful to see the Times’ coverage of our country’s other pandemic — hunger. However, the feature fails to illuminate the smartest, safest, and most efficient way to keep Americans healthy and well-nourished: boosting SNAP.

For over 70 years, SNAP (formerly food stamps) has allowed those facing hunger to access food with dignity, in keeping with medical, cultural, and religious dietary restrictions.

The article states that “[the] federal government’s food-stamp program has been dramatically expanded to confront the economic devastation of the pandemic.” This is an incomplete description, which lets policymakers off the hook for further action.

The truth is that policymakers have made some tweaks to SNAP (i.e. expanding online purchasing, issuing waivers to streamline certification, and granting some state flexibilities), but they have not yet taken the most obvious step of increasing benefits. To date, our federal government’s actions have been piecemeal and reactionary, temporary and inadequate. To suggest otherwise is misleading.

It is important to reflect on a prior stark moment in our nation’s history. In the 1980s, the federal government support system was gutted, and a network of direct service providers — food pantries, soup kitchens, mobile sites, etc. — was created to fill the gap. These charitable programs exist because of an inadequate governmental response to hunger, not the other way around.

Today, we are at another turning point. The Heroes Act would boost SNAP for struggling Americans and support economic growth, and it overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives nearly 4 months ago. In contrast, the Senate refuses to debate the bill, let alone pass it.

This moment deserves wisdom, compassion, and urgency. And so do the millions of Americans facing the ignominy of hunger.