Bart Brown: SNAP benefits are essential
Our neighbors who worry about putting food on the table for their families often don’t find themselves having a platform to reach thousands of people. But because we do, it’s essential for us to use it to do some good in the lives of those who are most vulnerable.
Across the Ozarks, 170,000 people are in desperate need of daily food assistance. And hundreds of thousands more wouldn’t be able to make ends meet without help from charities and federal food programs.
We serve 261,000 people each year through our network of 270 hunger-relief partners. And each year over 828,000 people across the state rely on SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.
We’ve heard the stereotypes about folks who use SNAP. But as someone who has met many people on the program, they’re just not true. These are folks with challenges many of us are lucky to have never faced.
For those who have never been hungry and who have been blessed to have a stable job, a warm home and a working car, it can be hard to imagine what it might be like to not have enough money to pay for just the basics. But if that ever happens, programs like SNAP are not just a blessing, they’re a lifeline.
Sometimes SNAP provides enough meals for most of the month, but many families turn to charities to fill the gap the last week.
Ashley is a single mom of three. We met her at a Springfield pantry. She was getting food to get her family through the end of the month.
“We’re already out of [SNAP] benefits, so we need a bit more food,” Ashley shared.
With three elementary-aged kids, Ashley finds it hard to keep her struggles to herself, though she tries. Not having enough to buy a toy or an ice cream cone is hard for kids to understand, not to mention explaining why there isn’t any more food to eat.
“I try and keep it from them for the most part, but they know when we are hurting for money because they want stuff and we can’t always get it for them,” Ashley said. “I wish I could just get them whatever they want to a limit, I don’t want to spoil them, but sometimes little stuff they want and I can’t afford to get it for them.”
Many of the people who benefit from SNAP, 64 percent, are kids, seniors or disabled. In addition, 22 percent work full-time, are in a training program or are caregivers. The remaining 14 percent work less than 30 hours a week or are unemployed.
It’s important to know that SNAP has one of the lowest fraud percentages of any government program, around one percent, and is proven to do a lot of good for people struggling with hunger. It allows people to enter the workforce when entry-level jobs don’t pay enough to meet expenses.
Food banks like ours could never replace all that SNAP does — last year Missourians received $1.2 billion in benefits — but our partnerships with SNAP and other federal food programs leverage local support. Only together will we meet the needs of our community.
Just as we serve as a voice to the voiceless, we believe you can as well. We count on you to help us advocate and raise awareness of the need. Thank you for standing with us as we work diligently to end hunger.
Bart Brown is the president/CEO of Ozarks Food Harvest.