They are the family behind you in line at Safeway, or the senior buying greens at the farmers’ market. They are one of the 15% of Americans on SNAP, the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps. SNAP, or CalFresh as it’s known in California, is the first line of defense in reducing hunger in America. Here in Santa Cruz County, SNAP participation has grown 88% since 2006 and now serves over 13,000 of our neighbors each month, half of them kids. This historic level of use is a clear indicator of the depth of the recession.
Critics claim food stamps are an unnecessary taxpayer burden, repeating the myth that the program is a magnet for abuse. SNAP provides about $1.40 per person per meal and audits show program fraud is at an all-time low of 1%. That sounds less like an entitlement scandal and more like a safeguard against mass hunger. Here at Second Harvest, our work to help eligible residents apply for SNAP has shown it to be a true safety net for those unsure of where their next meal will come from.
At the kitchen table, the grocery store, and in the cafeteria, the families we serve struggle with how to stretch their dollars to make it through the next meal. When you’re hungry, getting a job or trying to stay focused in the classroom takes a back seat. That’s why Second Harvest has community outreach workers to help local residents get and stay enrolled in CalFresh.
Along with emergency food distribution and school meals, SNAP is a vital component to making sure vulnerable families get the food they need to sustain themselves and get back on their feet. At Second Harvest, we know there isn’t one solution to ending hunger. Charities, government, the faith community, volunteers —none of us can do it alone. A safety net works because it absorbs weight across a strong network. We look forward to continuing our work to see those struggling rise again.