Cutting Food Aid Promotes Hunger Not Work

You may have heard about the Trump administration’s latest attack on very poor Americans: a punitive new restriction that will cut SNAP benefits for 688,000 people. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is our country’s most popular and effective nutrition assistance program.

Growing up, my family got food stamps — and oh, I hated it. I hated standing in line at the grocery store, knowing we’d be paying with coupons that would brand us as “poor” to anyone who noticed.

And yet I loved the fact that we had food. As a growing kid, I knew what it was like to come home to a bare kitchen. Those dreaded vouchers meant we got cheese, milk, fruit, eggs, cereal, beans, tortillas, and yes, sometimes even ice cream.

That food — and the stability that came with it — sent me on my way. Because I wasn’t hungry in school, I could pay attention. And I excelled.

I scored in the top few percentiles on every standardized test I ever took. I got into college, where I scraped by with some low-interest loans, scholarships, and waitressing jobs. And now I make a good living for myself.

In fact, I’ve paid more in taxes over the past 25 years than my family ever got in government assistance. But I haven’t forgotten our past, and that’s why I strongly support making SNAP available to all families who need it. They deserve the same leg up we got.

That’s why threats to SNAP — from the latest attack on “work-capable adults” without kids to other changes that would throw kids off school lunch assistance — make my blood boil.

We don’t know what hardships these people targeted by the latest rule face. We do know they are very, very poor, earning less than $2,200 a year, according to Feeding America.

The stereotype floated by Trump is that adults without children are freeloaders, but how do we know that? How do we know they didn’t get laid off from their jobs six months ago? How do we know they are not in school? How can we presume to make assumptions about them or walk in their shoes?

Taking food away from very poor people doesn’t promote work — it just makes them hungrier.

Think about it. Could you go out every day looking for work if your stomach was empty? Would you hire someone whose belly growled at you from the other side of the interview desk?

This is just one in a series of efforts by the administration to literally take food off the table for millions of Americans. A recent analysis by the Urban Institute found that if all of Trump’s attempts to restrict SNAP had been in place in 2018, 3.7 million would have lost SNAP benefits.

You’d be looking at all sorts of Americans being harmed — the elderly, the disabled, low-income women. And, sadly, children. Children like me.

SNAP is as an investment. As my mother-in-law used to say, “First feed the face, then teach right from wrong.”

How can we expect kids who are hungry, ignored, or penalized for being poor to succeed? How can we expect under-nourished adults to lead productive lives, or seek self-improvement, when they’re scrounging through dumpsters looking for lunch?

My plea to anyone reading this is to lend your support to continued funding of anti-hunger programs. My brothers and I were worth that small investment 40 years ago. Don’t we owe the same to the kids and adults who are worth it today?

Sherry Brennan lives in Los Angeles with her teenage son, where she works in the TV and streaming video business and devotes time to social safety net causes.