Lending a hand, not a handout, to our hungry neighbors

Helen McGovern-Pilant is the executive director of the Emergency Food Network.
Helen McGovern-Pilant is the executive director of the Emergency Food Network. Staff file photo

I find myself concerned about our neighbors this year.

It is Hunger Awareness Month in Pierce County, the school year is coming to a close and I’m kept up at night worrying where the families of the 59,000 children who received free/reduced lunch and breakfast this year will find food in the summer.

I am also concerned about the 22-percent increase in seniors visiting local food pantries that we have seen in the past year.

News out of Washington D.C. about potential cuts to safety nets such as the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) has me deeply troubled since we know our neighbors are already struggling.

In my lifetime, the program commonly known as Food Stamps, now SNAP, was born.

In my lifetime, I have seen society go from a mindset of “let’s lend a hand” to that of “let’s judge.”

I grew up in a small town in Idaho where in the early 1950s we didn’t lock our doors and we came together to help others. I would like to think that Pierce County, which I’ve called home for the last 33 years, cares, too.

In 1954, Food Stamps began as part of the Farm Bill. Those who needed food would have access to the excess grown by farmers.

As the years went by, the program changed to allow buying power for the same healthy food found at grocery stores. Over the past 64 years, the program has been refined, restricted, expanded but never threatened, until now.

Did you know economists consider SNAP one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus? Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy every dollar increase in SNAP benefits will generate about $1.70 in economic activity.

SNAP benefits are one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy. As economies improve, the numbers receiving SNAP benefits declines, although reduction lags behind recovery.

Did you know SNAP benefits support a household’s food purchasing needs, while also supporting the incomes and spending of others such as farmers, retailers, food processors, and food distributors and their employees?

If we look at the program purely as an investment, it has a ripple effect on all the aforementioned stakeholders. SNAP benefits start a multiplier process that supports macroeconomic spending and production across the country.

Did you know SNAP serves a wide range of participants including low-income households, families with children, the elderly and people with disabilities? This includes families with adults who work in low-wage jobs, unemployed workers and people on fixed incomes such as Social Security.

Nationwide 72 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, and more than one quarter live in households with seniors or people with disabilities.

What does this program look like in Pierce County? Roughly 15 percent of our residents, or approximately 127, 427 individuals, receive SNAP benefits.

Did you know the average benefit is $119.17 a month per recipient? In Pierce County the economic impact is more than $15.185 million per month.

Let’s help preserve this program by lending our voices based on the facts.

SNAP is a benefit, not a handout. It is an economic stimulus package supporting farmers, business owners and their employees. It provides working families and seniors additional access to healthy foods.

Contact your elected representatives and let them know we still care. Here’s a clear request you can make of them: Please maintain or improve the SNAP system, do not reduce or destroy it, because our community needs it.

Helen McGovern-Pilant is executive director of the Emergency Food Network, based in Lakewood. For more information, go to efoodnet.org.