By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
When the COVID-19 pandemic created and increased financial hardship for families across the country, the federal government stepped in to temporarily increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits with emergency allotments.
In March, the extra benefits came to an end with the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Residents in D.C. and nationwide are now facing a hunger cliff and losing $90 a month on average.
Not only will this affect residents’ livelihoods but it will also impact the retailers they shop from.
“We’re a position where there are residents in the District who are living low income and do not have access to financial support to purchase groceries and afford food,” said LaMonika Jones, interim director of D.C. Hunger Solutions.
“Those emergency allotments were distributed to over 90,000 District residents who participate in SNAP, and it was about $14 million a month that was allocated to support these residents. Now, that has gone away.”
Founded in 2002, D.C. Hunger Solutions is a statewide initiative of the Food Research Action Center with one mission: end hunger in the District.
The organization addresses food access and food insecurity for residents and focuses on promoting participation in federal nutrition assistance programs, like SNAP, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the National School Lunch Program.
It’s also instrumental in anti-hunger advocacy and policy for the D.C. Council.
Most recently, D.C. Hunger Solutions lobbied for the Give SNAP a Raise Amendment Act, which was passed by the D.C. Council in December. The anti-hunger bill will provide SNAP recipients with an extra 10 percent in benefits on top of their federal distribution amount.
“I think, especially during the pandemic, we were able to paint a clear picture that hunger does not have a face, it does not have a color and it does not have a race. Any person at any time and at any moment can be dealing with hunger,” said Jones.
“Hunger doesn’t necessarily mean you have zero food, it just means you don’t have enough food. Individuals living in our highest-income wards can struggle with hunger just as much as individuals living in our lower-income earning wards.”
Jones said hunger does not simply mean that an individual has nothing to eat. Instead, it’s a nuanced issue that involves other social determinants of health, like economic security, transportation access and built environment, which can affect a person’s access to food.
It also encompasses the nutritional value of the food that residents have access to.
“It’s one thing to have a surplus of fast food, but it’s another thing to have access to a surplus of fresh and nutritious food. When we talk about access it’s access to healthy and nutritious foods versus just food in general,” said Jones.
“We want to make sure that individuals are accessing healthy food options because that’s going to counteract some of those negative health challenges that individuals may have, like high blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension.”
Currently, D.C. Hunger Solutions is advocating for the Universal Free School Meals Amendment Act of 2023, which would provide free breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks to students in every public, charter and participating private school in D.C.
Jones said without ample access to food, students can experience behavioral problems, attention issues and poor academic performance.
“Making sure that we are expanding our programs and making sure that we are making our school meals free and affordable for our families who are living with low-income and for all students across the board is a way that we can address hunger in our school-age programs,” Jones.
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.