Opinion: Americans suffering the worst of soaring inflation

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Thanksgiving is expected to be the most expensive in history, as pandemic-induced supply chain problems and labor shortages contribute to cost of many foods – turkeys included – higher and higher.

These increases impact grocery expenses for everyone, but they disproportionately hurt low-income black and brown families. Left unchecked, escalating food prices will not only make it difficult for these families to prepare holiday meals; such costs will dramatically exacerbate long-standing inequalities in hunger and nutrition.

The pandemic did not create these inequalities. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 1 in 10 American households experienced food insecurity or unreliable access to sufficient nutritious food. It was already a striking and disgracefully high rate among rich and developed countries. But rates of food insecurity have long been even higher for Black, Latinx, and Native American households, single parents (especially mothers) and families with children.
In the past two years we have only seen these gaps are widening. Pandemic relief efforts have helped prevent skyrocketing hunger rates in the United States overall, but they have failed to address deep-rooted inequalities. While hunger in white households declined from 2019 to 2020, according to a US Department of Agriculture study, it increased in black households and those with children, and it remained the same among Latinx households. Compared to white households, Latinx and black households now experience approximately doubling and tripling the rates food insecurity.
As we enter the holiday season facing double digits increases in supermarkets, hunger relief organizations and food banks work tirelessly to make sure families have enough to eat.

But these food charitable efforts are painfully limited in what they can accomplish. The problem of hunger in the United States is too great and its inequalities too great for a number of individual food donations to be solved. Only swift and radical government action can do this. Such action must effectively reduce overall hunger rates – bringing them well below the 1 in 10 figure that we accept as “normal” – while simultaneously addressing persistent inequalities among those who suffer from hunger. in the first place.

To achieve these two objectives, it will be necessary to combine the reform of policies to fight against hunger that have a direct impact on access to food with strengthened social policies that tackle the root causes of food insecurity. The heart of this agenda must be to recognize that food banks alone will never solve hunger. Rather, the government must end hunger by making permanent changes to food aid legislation and broader social policies. These changes include, among others, instituting increases in food aid benefits that keep pace with the rising cost of living, removing discriminatory flaws that systematically exclude racial / ethnic minorities from accessing net benefits. childcare assistance and child tax credits, and the regular provision of cash help families.

The Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – The United States’ First Federal Food Aid Program – has the power to fight hunger across the board, but only if its monthly benefits are increased and its barriers to entry lowered.
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The recent – and long-awaited – permanent government 27% increase in SNAP benefits should only be the beginning. Currently, 80% of SNAP services for families are spent in the first half of each month, making them increasingly vulnerable to hunger in the second half. Now with the prices of foods like meat and eggs up to 15%, more substantial increases in SNAP are essential to cover the monthly food expenses of families.
In addition, the income requirements for food aid programs like SNAP are rigorous and disconnected with the cost of modern living. In our state of Utah, a family of four must do less than $ 34,000 one year to be eligible for the SNAP program. Meanwhile, the Institute for Economic Policy believes that such a family living in Salt Lake County needs an annual income greater than double that for a sufficient standard of living.
Any increase in the amounts of food aid benefits must be accompanied by a systematic removal of the barriers that prevent families from accessing these benefits in the first place. The pandemic has revealed that such cuts are possible: the government waived SNAP face-to-face interviews, and SNAP dollars could be spent on online grocery orders, saving families time and transportation costs, while also allowing them to minimize potential exposure to Covid. These actions enabled the program to respond to economic difficulties and to expand by 38 million people in 2019 at 42 million in 2021.
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Expanding access to benefits will only reduce inequalities when combined with efforts to close discriminatory policy loopholes that have excluded Black, Latin American and Native American households.

For example, the search shows strict SNAP work requirements disproportionately exclude black and Latin adults from SNAP access. In the same way, widespread restrictions on SNAP benefits for those convicted of drug crimes disproportionately harm the same black and Latin communities long targeted by the war on drugs. These discriminatory policies have no place in anti-hunger policy.

Improvements in the safety net against hunger must go hand in hand with strengthening broader social policies to uproot the structural foundations of hunger. At its root, food insecurity stems from unbearable wages, unaffordable housing, childcare shortages and the many ways in which these inequalities intersect with structural racism, poverty and discrimination.

For example, wealth disparities and long-standing labor market inequalities impact the ability of families to feed themselves in the face of economic shocks. Black, Latinx and indigenous families entered the pandemic with much less resources than white families (the typical white family has about eight times the wealth of the typical black family). Likewise, black and Latino workers, overrepresented in low-wage positions and hardest-hit industries, suffered greater financial losses during the pandemic. A higher level of economic hardship and limited economies to fall back on made it more difficult for black and Latin families to maintain adequate access to food during the pandemic.

Today, as the holiday season approaches and food prices continue to rise, so does the urgency to tackle the root causes of hunger. Fortunately, the pandemic has shown us that swift and strong government action to fight hunger is possible. But such action cannot be reserved only for moments of acute crisis.

The time has now come for a national program to fight hunger focused on reducing food insecurity and eradicating the structural inequalities that cause it. In a country with more than enough money and enough food to feed every family, America’s hunger crisis simply has no place.


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