This Is Hunger: A Conversation with MAZON and Rep. Adam Schiff

On Tuesday, May 19th, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger convened a virtual conversation with Congressman Adam Schiff (CA-28) about increasing hunger in the wake of COVID-19. There is no doubt the pandemic has caused unprecedented hunger and hardship, shining a spotlight on the gaping holes in our nation’s safety net. With every passing day, it becomes more clear that federal assistance programs are critical in meeting the needs of all those facing hunger.

Abby J. Leibman, MAZON’s President & CEO, framed the conversation around the urgent need for Congress to expand and strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to ensure that all Americans can feed themselves and their families. Leibman shared staggering statistics:

“In January, there were almost 40 million Americans for whom hunger was the painful reality in their lives. In a few short weeks, there are now over 60 million people who do not know where their next meal will come from — leading to the stunning images we have seen of lines of cars at food banks, requests from governors to allow online purchasing by SNAP recipients and demands by advocates that our government repair the tears made by this Administration in our nutrition safety net.”

Congressman Schiff — a longtime advocate of SNAP and other federal nutrition programs, and an outspoken proponent of addressing food insecurity among college students — discussed the policy dynamics in Washington and the misconceptions that a shocking number of his colleagues in Congress have about those who receive SNAP benefits:

“The charitable response [to hunger] is important, but [food pantries] do not have the capacity to meet the need. There is already a strong program for dealing with food insecurity — the program is called SNAP. We can increase and expand SNAP and empower people to feed themselves. We also have to get beyond the stereotypes of who rely on SNAP benefits. We have many common sense opportunities to improve people’s lives right now, and we must take the opportunity to do so.”

Judge Margaret Morrow, President and CEO of the Los Angeles-based legal services agency Public Counsel, shared that her agency is receiving “an overwhelming number of calls” to their intake lines, with people asking for help with filing SNAP/CalFresh applications:

“Many of the people who need these benefits do not have computer access, are seniors who need help filling out an online application, or are facing language barriers with the forms. There have been delays that seem excessive, and this might be because the system is overwhelmed. People facing dire need are going without food because it’s taking so long for them to hear about whether they can get benefits.”

Marisa De La Torre, Lead Coordinator of the Lancer Pantry at Pasadena City College, addressed the ongoing crisis of college students facing food and housing insecurity — an issue which has been exacerbated due to COVID-19:

“I know a lot of students are feeling really scared right now. I’ve spoken with students who are single parents and lost their source of income, so they’re now struggling to find an adequate food source for their children. We also have students who are supporting their elderly parents, some of whom are immuno-compromised, so they have to find food as well as people who can deliver the food to their homes, so they can limit exposure and keep their families safe.”

It is clear that SNAP is a vital tool in ensuring that Americans can put food on the table while contributing to a national economic recovery. Please join MAZON in demanding that Congress increase SNAP for all who need it — take action today at mazon.org/COVID.