On Nov. 1, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was reduced by an average of $36 for a family. On Nov. 4, one of Madison County’s largest food pantries experienced more than double attendance with a significant number of households there for the first time.
People weren’t asked whether the reduction was a factor, but a look at food insecurity in our community certainly points that direction. With additional cuts to the program under discussion in Washington, D.C., it’s important to understand the connection to reality here at home.
First, it’s difficult for many to believe that hunger exists here. After all, images of hunger that we see in the media are generally from third-world countries. Hunger in Madison County looks much different: it’s the inattentive or lethargic child at school, the diabetic grandparent in the emergency room, the poor performing and/or sick employee.
It’s more than 21,000 people in Madison County. More than one third of these – nearly 7,400 people – do not currently qualify for SNAP. The program (also called “food stamps”) is meant to be a safety net for the most vulnerable populations – 83 percent of benefits go to households with a child, senior or disabled person. Even then, benefits are a supplement, averaging less than $1.50 per person per meal.
SNAP is one of the most efficient, reliable and impactful federal poverty programs, playing a critical role in improving diet and health, especially among children. In Madison County, one of every two children in our public schools is on the free or reduced lunch program, yet an additional 2,000 plus children are food insecure.
For those that don’t receive assistance, or enough assistance, food pantries and meal programs across the community strive to help fill the gaps. Many hard working volunteers dedicate long hours and do their best to provide nutritious selections for families. Food banks – such as Second Harvest of East Central Indiana – cuts costs by obtaining large shipments of donated product and making it available at a nominal fee to cover the cost of transportation and storage. United Way of Madison County provides funding to Second Harvest to reduce the costs to local pantries even further.
Many food distribution sites offer nutrition and meal preparation education and information targeted to helping families make the most of donated products. Numerous community groups are also sponsoring weekend meal programs at area schools – sending home a bag of food on Fridays.
Yet, accessing food and meal programs requires the ability to get to numerous sites at the times they distribute, wait in long lines, and take what is available. Food insecure families typically struggle with transportation and work in service jobs that have limited work schedule flexibility.
There is a variance of $6,100 annual income between the federal poverty level ($11.490) and self sufficiency ($17,593) for a single adult; more than $20,000 variance for a family of four — $23,550 versus $44,264. In Madison County SNAP currently exceeds $3 million in monthly assistance. Cuts at the levels being discussed in our nation’s capital will absolutely impact our community.
Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County Inc. Her column appears the fourth Sunday of each month. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-3061.