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Fresno's jobs drought starts at the dinner table with food stamps

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES & MODERN CONUNDRUMS

The report gives a brief history of SNAP. The program dates back to the early 1960s and the administration of President John F. Kennedy. It was known as “food stamps” back then.

“The authorizing legislation, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, began with a lofty goal of utilizing ‘the Nation’s abundance of food … to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households,’” the report states.

As mentioned earlier: SNAP grew rapidly as the Great Recession deepened. Enrollment increased from 28.2 million participants in FY 2008 to 47.6 million in FY 2013.

“SNAP is intended to assist low-income individuals in strengthening their food purchasing power while they work to lift themselves out of poverty,” the report states. “This point was clearly illustrated by Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: ‘a family whose rent and utility costs consume two-thirds of its income will have less money to buy food than a family that has the same income but receives a rental voucher to cover a portion of its rental costs.’”

The report notes that most SNAP recipients face many poverty-related challenges: housing, utilities, transportation and childcare, to name a few.

SNAP, the report states, “has become a catch-all for low-income individuals who either do not qualify for a more targeted program like WIC (supplemental nutritional program for women, infants and children) or who need to supplement their income (and other forms of public assistance) to purchase food. Challenges facing recipients may also differ depending on whether the recipient is a single parent, part of a two-parent household, an older American, a veteran, currently serving in the military, disabled, or is in an urban or rural environment.”

“Jim Weill with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) pointed out the often surprising fact that ‘rural food insecurity rates are higher than metro area rates; and food insecurity rates are roughly the same in every region of the country, albeit they are highest in the South.’”

The heart of the report deals with “findings” based on four themes. My interest is the first two themes: “Serving SNAP Recipients through Innovation and Flexibility in Program Delivery” and “Climbing the Economic Ladder through Work.”

One of the findings in the first theme states: “The need for nutrition assistance cannot be addressed by just one program or just one group—it requires more collaboration between governments, charities, businesses, health systems, communities, individuals, and many others.”

The report quotes Dustin Kunz of the Texas Hunger Initiative in his testimony to the committee: “Complex problems require complex, creative, and collaborative solutions,” Kunz said. “Public challenges, such as food insecurity, require a response that exceeds the capabilities and resources of any one department, organization, or jurisdiction. Collaboration provides a way to stretch those resources and accomplish more with less, and the benefits of these partnerships include cost savings and enhanced quality and quantity of services, while also addressing community needs, enhancing trust, and increasing citizen support.”

When it comes to fighting hunger, the report states, the Federal Government should “work to enhance the work on the ground and not impede it. This also requires the individual in need to be invested in working toward self-sufficiency. Unless the individual, local, state, and Federal organizations are all working together, efforts to improve the circumstances may be in vain.”

Another finding from the first theme: “The diversity of programs serving low-income households simultaneously generates overlaps and gaps in recipient services.”

Simply put, there are lots of programs designed to help the needy at all levels of government. The result all too often is confusion and waste.

The report then shifts to findings in the area that, in my opinion, should be of particular attention to the Brand Administration’s strategy over the next four years.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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