Milo Perkins, the administrator of the first food stamp program in the late 1930s, described the reason for its existence as such: “We got a picture of a gorge, with farm surpluses on one cliff and under-nourished city folks with outstretched hands on the other. We set out to find a practical way to build a bridge across that chasm.”
A recent report from the Center for Rural Affairs showed that the chasm that Perkins described still exists right here in the agricultural heart of the country today, with about 1 and 5 kids in rural areas of Nebraska “food insecure”, meaning they have limited or unstable access to food. The report showcases the troubling fact that this food insecurity exists right in the midst of abundant agricultural production.
One of the best tools we have in addressing food insecurity is the food stamp program, now known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is truly the most accessible form of food assistance, because it doesn’t rely on geography and charity (as food pantries often do) or time of year (as school meals do) but rather can be used in almost any community by eligible families. It is also a targeted based on family size, income, and expenses.
Right now, Congress is working to reauthorize the farm bill and debating the future of the SNAP program. In Nebraska, as in many other states, the majority of SNAP recipients are children. This matters because children need food in an even more fundamental way than adults do. Their brains and bodies are still developing, and a lack of adequate nutrition can have lasting consequences.
Ideally, we want to live in a world where all parents have enough income to feed their children at all times, but we aren’t there yet. Many families have experienced job losses and seen their income go down while food prices are going up.
We can only imagine how rates of food insecurity might increase without SNAP and we hope that Congress will continue to ensure that the SNAP program remains available for the children who depend on it.