By William Lambers
With unemployment soaring and foodbanks overwhelmed with demand, Congress should increase food stamps (SNAP) in the coronavirus relief bill. We must feed hungry Americans and stimulate the economy. Food stamps do just that by giving the needy purchasing power at grocery stores.
The novel coronavirus has placed millions more American families, who have lost jobs, in need of food assistance.
We know that food stamps work in times of crisis. During World War II food stamps were given to poor families when unemployment was high at the start of the conflict. The stamps were used to help buy groceries. At that time school lunch programs for children were also expanded.
Food stamps fed millions of Americans and prevented malnutrition as the country headed into the war. USDA Economist Mordecai Ezekiel praised food stamps as vital for the health of the nation, telling the NY Times in 1941 “malnourished people make poor farmers, poor workers and poor soldiers.”
The food stamp program ran from 1939-1943 until the economy took off and unemployment rates dropped. The Secretary of Agriculture, Claude Wickard, called food stamps “an outstanding success.” The school lunch programs continued after the food stamp plan ended.
Food stamps were needed to keep the country strong during a time of global crisis.
Likewise today we are much stronger in our fight against the novel coronavirus if people are well nourished. But millions more Americans are needing food assistance. Hunger can sink America as easily as the coronavirus unless we take action. Food stamps (today known as SNAP) are crucial because they provide the impoverished with a benefits card to buy groceries.
Matt Habash of the Mid Ohio foodbank says “In these uncertain times, SNAP can help people immediately while also providing an economic stimulus to local economies, helping people and communities get back on their feet so they don’t have to rely on charitable or government assistance any longer than necessary.”
The Congress needs to increase SNAP benefits to give poor families the ability to afford groceries. The Senate can do this as they finalize the next coronavirus relief package. This will feed the hungry and help retailers where SNAP benefits are redeemed.
As Feeding America explains “SNAP is an efficient way to provide relief to families and provide stability for the economy...SNAP is also rated as one of the most effective supports for the economy during economic downturns by the Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s Analytics.”
Feeding America, which leads the nation’s foodbanks, says ”We urge Congress and the administration to make additional investments in our families struggling with hunger by increasing SNAP benefits.”
It’s especially crucial to have a well-nourished population during a pandemic. Nutrition is a foundation of resisting disease for any person.
We must also increase food assistance for children especially since many have missed free school meals because of closures caused by the novel coronavirus. Lisa Davis of Share our Strength says “SNAP is a safe, effective way to ensure low-income children and their families get the food they need.” As President Harry Truman once said “No nation is any healthier than its children.”
The public could also pitch in by purchasing food packages for children that foodbanks could distribute. Fresh produce from local farms could be included to boost nutrition levels of children to keep them healthy during the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.
Food is essential for our response to the novel coronavirus. Expanding SNAP will help Americans get food on the table and improve our nation’s health and economy.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book Ending World Hunger. His writings have been published by the USA Today, Baltimore Sun, History News Network, The Hill, Houston Chronicle and many other news outlets.