Over 60% of SNAP beneficiaries face barriers to healthy eating

Since Arkansas ended the Emergency Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program supplements on June 30, healthy eating has only become more difficult for Tammy Benton and her family.

“We paid $ 7.05 for a gallon of milk the other day, just Jane’s milk,” Benton said. “… For people who get the SNAP benefits, with prices going up 30-50% on a lot of things … they can only get half the amount of things, which means buying unhealthy products.” “

Arkansas provided additional benefits to families receiving SNAP, but those additional amounts expired due to Governor Asa Hutchinson’s end of the state of emergency in May. This brought families back to pre-pandemic benefit amounts, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

The expiration of emergency benefits does not impact the pandemic EBT that families with students will receive, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

However, families like the Benton’s continue to struggle as food prices and COVID-19 cases rise in Arkansas.

A shopping cart pushed down the aisle of a grocery store.

Reassess healthy eating on SNAP

The supplementary nutritional assistance program contributes part of a family’s food budget. Families enrolled in the program receive an EBT card, which works like a debit card, allowing them to purchase qualifying food items.

The amount of SNAP benefits a family receives is based on the Thrifty Food Plan, which determines the cost of a nutritious diet based on the size of the household.

The value of the Thrifty Food plan has remained the same since 1975. Although SNAP benefits have adjusted for inflation, the ability of families to purchase healthy food has declined.

In a report released by the US Department of Agriculture in June, 61% of SNAP program participants reported cost as a barrier to healthy eating.

A USDA spokesperson said there was an ongoing reassessment of the Thrifty Food plan, which is currently based on the 1997-2005 Dietary Reference Intakes, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the recommendations of dietary intake of MyPyramid in 2005.

Using multiple sources, including “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025,” the USDA will update the Thrifty Food plan to “meet the nutritional needs of every age and gender group on a budget,” a declared the spokesperson.

As part of the reassessment, they hold focus groups with SNAP program participants, hunger advocates, the medical and public health community, and others affected by the program.

They are also looking at how “practical considerations, such as time and convenience, come into play,” the spokesperson said.

For Benton, this change is more than necessary, as she has seen neighbors struggling due to limited time or disabilities.

“They’re too busy working two or three jobs or raising six kids on their own… or they’re older and in a wheelchair,” Benton said. “Times have changed, it’s different now and if we’re going to change everything to meet people’s needs, we honestly have to change the way things are done.”

Treat yourself to a healthy diet

Across the country, more than 42 million people received SNAP benefits in April, according to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.

Arkansas, which was ranked fifth in the nation by US News and World Report for its poverty rate, has more than 30,000 residents receiving SNAP benefits.

In Sebastian County, where Benton and his family live, 23% of children live in poverty, three points above the national average, according to a 2019 Urban Institute study.

“People want to retire here. I don’t understand. They go to California, and they make millions of dollars, and then they move to Arkansas because everything is so cheap,” Benton said. “And yes, maybe compared to California, but if you’ve lived here most of your life, it doesn’t come cheap here.

By reassessing the Thrifty Food plan, the USDA aims to “ensure that PTF provides families with healthy and realistic food on a limited budget,” according to the released statement.

The reassessment is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, as outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill. However, an executive order issued by President Joe Biden in January pushed to speed up the reassessment.

“We are working as quickly as possible while maintaining the scientific integrity of our efforts … We believe this is an urgent issue and we aim to complete it by the end of this summer,” said a USDA spokesperson.

A growing need

In the meantime, Benton uses his garden to grow healthy foods like tomatoes and okra. To buy the plants, she used her EBT card.

She acknowledged that while this option works for her, for families who don’t have space for a garden or for people with disabilities, it may not be a possibility. She added that it is even more difficult for those who do not have household appliances to keep food fresh.

Benton went on to explain that families in these situations often rely on unhealthy, cheap, and readily available foods to fight hunger.

“It’s like no one has ever taken that into consideration. Whoever was doing it was either city dwellers with a refrigerator, a child, a parent and no backyard, ”Benton said. “I don’t understand how they didn’t calculate that it wasn’t possible.”

“It’s like everyone’s stopping and thinking, ‘Well, they’ll understand. Yes, no… and we are not the only state with this problem. I know it, ”Benton said. “It’s just that I consider us pretty smart people in Arkansas, and I don’t know why we didn’t understand that.”

Although state social service departments are unable to influence the outcome of the reassessment, “we share the common goal of administering the SNAP program as effectively and efficiently as possible,” said Gavin Lesnick, Chief communications assistant for the Arkansas Department of Humanities. Services.

Lesnick shared information about different programs for SNAP participants, including the Double-Up Food Bucks program which is in partnership with the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention.

“Through this initiative, SNAP beneficiaries can receive a matching $ 1 to $ 1 on up to $ 20 of locally grown produce purchased at all farmer’s markets and farm stalls across the state,” Lesnick said.

A hopeful but partial solution

Local hunger relief organizations see the USDA reassessment as a promising but partial solution.

As the SNAP Outreach Director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, Lance Whitney sees the intersectional nature of hunger.

“Food insecurity comes with baggage. It can be housing or shelter, basic needs, clothing. Every day, these families struggling against food insecurity choose between education, items of heat or freshness, public services, transport… the ability to get to where the food is ”, said Whitney said.

He explained how the food provided by SNAP serves as the foundation that individuals need to continue their education and work, which benefits the community.

Ultimately, Whitney hopes the public will support those receiving help rather than judging them for asking for help.

“I feel in my heart that there isn’t a child in this world who got up in the morning and said, ‘Boy, I can’t wait to be older and I don’t have enough food, “or” I can’t wait to be older and have to rely on other people’s help, “Whitney said.” There isn’t a senior who wants to admit that they can’t not afford what she needs to live healthy in this world. ”

“These are situations that were placed for some reason,” said Whitney, “and we have to remember that before we as an audience judge who they are and how they got there, we have to be. willing to open up our whole life and let someone else judge our decisions.

Catherine Nolte is a member of the body of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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