Opinion: The Americans who get the worst out of rising inflation

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

These increases affect grocery spending for all, but they hurt disproportionately low-income, black and brown families. If they are not addressed, escalating food costs will not only make it difficult for these families to put holiday meals on the table; such costs will significantly exacerbate long-term inequalities in hunger and nutrition.

The pandemic did not create these inequalities. Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, 1 in 10 US households experienced food insecurity, or unreliable access to sufficiently nutritious food. This was already a striking and shamefully high rate among wealthy, developed nations. But food insecurity has long been even higher for Black, Latinx, and Native American households, single parents (especially mothers) and families with children.
Over the last two years, we have only seen these gaps widen. Pandemic relief efforts helped prevent U.S. famines from exploding in general, but they failed to address deep-rooted inequalities. While hunger in white households fell from 2019 to 2020, according to research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 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 are now experiencing roughly double and triple the rates of food insecurity.
This is where high inflation will come to an end
As we enter double digits into the holiday season rising in supermarket costs, starvation organizations and food banks are working tirelessly to ensure families have enough to eat.

However, these food charitable efforts are painfully limited in what they can accomplish. America’s hunger problem is too great and its inequalities too great for any number of individual food donations to solve. Only rapid and sweeping government action can do that. Such an action should effectively reduce hunger rates in general – bring them well below the number 1 in 10 we have come to accept as “normal” – and at the same time tackle persistent inequalities in who experiences hunger in the first place.

Achieving both goals will require that the reform of anti-hunger policies that directly affect food access be linked to strengthened social policies that tackle the root causes of food insecurity. The core of this agenda must be to recognize that food banks will never solve hunger alone. On the contrary, the government must curb hunger by making permanent changes to food aid legislation and broader social policies. These changes include the introduction of food aid increases that keep pace with rising cost of living, the elimination of discriminatory errors that systematically exclude racial / ethnic minorities from accessing safety services, the extension of childcare assistance and child tax deductions, and the provision of regular cash assistance to families.

That Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) America’s Leading Federal Food Aid Program – Has the power to tackle hunger across the board, but only if its monthly benefits increase and its barriers to entry are lowered.
The bite should do much more on inflation
The government’s recent – and long-awaited – permanent increase of 27%. in SNAP, benefits should only be the beginning. Currently, 80% of families’ SNAP benefits used within the first half of each month, making them more vulnerable to hunger in the second half. Now with the price of foods such as meat and eggs up to 15%, more significant increases for SNAP are essential to cover families’ monthly food expenses.
In addition, income requirements for food aid programs such as SNAP stringent and out of contact with modern cost of living. In our state of Utah, a family of four has to make do less than $ 34,000 one year to be SNAP eligible. In the meantime Department of Economic Policy estimates such a family living in Salt Lake County needs an annual income more than double it for an appropriate standard of living.
Any increase in food aid benefits must be done in parallel with the systematic removal of barriers to family access in the first instance. The pandemic revealed that such removals are possible: the government waived personal SNAP interviews, and SNAP dollars could be used on online grocery orders, saving families time and transportation costs while minimizing potential Covid exposure. These actions enabled the program to respond to financial difficulties and expand from 38 million people in 2019 to 42 million in 2021.
The US military is introducing measures to try to ease the financial burden on service families

Extending access to benefits will only reduce inequalities if it is combined with efforts to eliminate discriminatory policy errors that have excluded black, Latin, and Native American households.

For example, research shows strict SNAP work requirements excludes disproportionately black and Latinx adults from SNAP access. Corresponding widespread limitations on SNAP benefits for people convicted of drug-related crimes disproportionately harms the same black and Latin communities long goal of the war on drugs. These discriminatory policies have no place in the anti-hunger policy.

Improvements to the anti-hunger safety net must be matched with a strengthening of broader social policies to eradicate the structural foundations of hunger. Basically, food insecurity stems from unaffordable wages, unaffordable housing, lack of childcare and the many ways in which these inequalities are crossed with structural racism, poverty and discrimination.

For example, long-term inequalities in wealth and inequalities in the labor market affect families’ ability to feed themselves in the face of economic shocks. Black, Latinx and natives families went into the pandemic with far fewer resources than white families (the typical white family has about eight times the wealth of the typical black family). Similarly, black and Latin workers, overrepresented in low-wage jobs and the hardest hit industries, suffered major economic losses during the pandemic. A higher level of economic hardship and limited savings to fall back on made it more difficult for black and Latin families to maintain adequate access to food during the pandemic.

Now that the holiday season is approaching and food prices continue to rise, it is also urgent to address the root causes of hunger. Fortunately, the pandemic has shown us that swift and robust government action to tackle hunger is possible. But such an action can not be reserved only for moments of acute crisis.

The time is now for a national anti-hunger agenda that focuses on reducing food insecurity and eradicating the structural inequalities that give rise to it. In a country with more than enough money and ample food to feed every single family, America’s hunger crisis simply has no place.


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