Attacks on Public Assistance Programs are Offensive and Wrong
By Matt Unger, Chief Executive Officer, DMARC
For 70 years, the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) has been bringing people together from across the religious spectrum to meet basic human needs for Greater Des Moines. One thing that people of all faith backgrounds can agree on is the need to feed our neighbors who are facing hunger and food insecurity. The DMARC Food Pantry Network assists tens of thousands of people in our community with healthy food, and we know our work is most effective when paired with strong state and federal programs.
Additional resources from the government, such as monthly payments via the enhanced child tax credit and increased benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty during the pandemic. At DMARC, we have witnessed this first-hand. When people have more money to purchase the food they need, we see less visitors at our Food Pantry Network.
This month, 343,000 families in Iowa are adjusting to the loss of the monthly child tax credit payments – an average loss of $417 per household.
But now, we are seeing the end of this temporary help. This month, 343,000 families in Iowa are adjusting to the loss of the monthly child tax credit payments – an average loss of $417 per household. Access to additional SNAP benefits could be next, if Iowa lifts its State Public Health Emergency Declaration. We’ve already seen what has happened in other states that lifted their emergency declaration: higher rates of food insecurity and longer lines at food pantries.
And while these vital program extensions are coming to a close, we’re hearing disturbing rhetoric from Iowa’s leaders. During her Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds said “the safety net has become a hammock” that is leading to societal decay. In his opening remarks for the legislative session, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver called public assistance programs a “lifestyle.” These uninformed arguments about people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families are offensive and wrong.
In fact, the number of Iowans enrolled in SNAP right now is at its lowest level in 13 years.
Iowa saw a spike in the number of people enrolled in SNAP early in the pandemic as businesses temporarily closed and workers were furloughed, but since then, the number has fallen to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the number of Iowans enrolled in SNAP right now is at its lowest level in 13 years.
At the same time, the monthly benefit amounts participants are receiving from SNAP have never been higher, thanks to actions taken by the federal government. But even at this historic high, the average SNAP benefit per meal is still only $2.67. Hardly enough for people to meet their nutrition needs, and a far cry from the Governor’s hammock analogy.
The vast majority of people who receive SNAP benefits and visit food pantries are children, seniors, working adults, and people with disabilities. For most, these are temporary forms of assistance while they get back on their feet. For some, especially people on a fixed income like seniors and people with disabilities, SNAP benefits and food pantries are the only way they are able to meet their monthly food needs.
Despite these facts, the rhetoric coming from the Capitol continues, and with potentially dire consequences. Rhetoric rooted not in reality, but rather in hearsay of long debunked stereotypes. We have already seen no less than seven bills introduced this session targeting SNAP and those who may need it.
The real way to guarantee Iowans can lead healthy, productive lives is to make sure workers are paid a living wage and have access to affordable child care, housing, and health care.
Demonizing our neighbors and kicking people off SNAP and other public assistance programs is the wrong direction for Iowa, and will do nothing to solve our workforce shortage. Let’s not target the programs that help people experiencing poverty, let’s target the reasons they experience it in the first place. The real way to guarantee Iowans can lead healthy, productive lives is to make sure workers are paid a living wage and have access to affordable child care, housing, and health care. Poverty is not a personal choice. Poverty is a policy choice.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.