By Jerry Woods, SNAP Outreach Coordinator
Poverty and food insecurity are associated with some of the most serious and costly health problems in the nation. There should be no reason for anyone in this country to go hungry when there are referral programs, resources, and resolutions available to help reduce hunger. Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program, is the first line of defense against hunger. Outreach is critical to achieving the goals of improving food access, affordability, and connecting more underserved populations to food and health equity.
After having conversations with some community members, these are some examples of challenges that they face gaining access to food while not being on SNAP:
“I visit food pantries because I don’t make enough money to buy food”, says a senior with limited resources.
“I don’t have the time to make it to the food pantry because they aren’t open long enough and I don’t have reliable transportation”, says a father of two kids.
“There isn’t enough culturally diverse food and healthy food choices at food pantries throughout these communities”, says a self-advocate who loves programs that can affect positive change.
In my experience as the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at The Foodbank, Inc., it saddens me that too few individuals experiencing food insecurity consider their eligibility or take the time to apply for SNAP. The process to get an application, submit it and complete it is tedious. The application is 16 pages long and after you complete it, you must submit and wait for approval. Ohio Department of Job and Family Services often have issues with communication; especially with certain populations that need assistance but may not have consistent communication lines. This sometimes leads to no follow-up for the applicant because they may not have the access needed to follow up.
There are many benefits of using SNAP: it allows you to spend less of your own money on groceries to use those funds for other living expenses; it helps boost local economy by shopping at locally owned retailers and farmers markets; it also lowers healthcare costs by providing a well-balanced nutritious diet which, keeps you in good health, resulting in fewer ER visits and hospital stays. There is a clear correlation between lack of food and mental and physical health challenges, and SNAP is a great first step in counteracting those challenges. It is important that strengthening SNAP and other federal nutrition assistance programs is prioritized, and that requires legislation in the Farm Bill to focus on:
- Making sure SNAP determination eligibility requirements are easier to maintain and more efficient for improved SNAP enrollment.
- Ensuring SNAP benefit amounts are adequate to achieve a nutritious diet.
- Food deserts are a system of segregation that divides those with access to an abundance of nutritious food and those who have been denied that access due to systemic injustice, by enabling programs and resources to have access to build and establish healthy food retailers in low-income communities.
- Improve food security for underserved populations by offering incentives/restrictions on certain food purchases.
Not everyone gets approved for SNAP–apply anyway. It is an opportunity for families to have extra support to help put food on their tables and a breathing room for bills, and there is no penalty for applying. Check the Foodbank, Inc. website for food resources, assistance checking income requirements, and applying for SNAP to get families fed.
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