By Katie LaBarbera
Imagine it is the middle of winter, it is 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside on this particular day, and including the windchill, it feels like -5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people hibernate in their homes with the heat on full blast, wrapped in a blanket sipping hot chocolate in the warmth. Now imagine a delicious, extravagant home-cooked meal. There is juicy steak, savory mashed potatoes, salad and a colorful assortment of steamed vegetables. But you can only have one: heating or food. Imagine choosing between having heat in your home and having food. Which would you choose?
According to the N.J. Federation of Food Banks hunger survey “49% of emergency food clients in N.J. report having to make the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities or heating fuel.”
Making the decision between paying for food and paying for utilities is not the only struggle people face. The difficult decisions people are also forced to make include paying for food or paying their rent or mortgage, as well as deciding between food or medical care.
Putting food on the table should not mean sacrificing other necessities. People use the money provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for other reasons besides purchasing food. Granted that there may be some loopholes within SNAP, the program has positive aspects that work toward the overall goal of ending hunger.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federally paid program that provides food purchasing aid for low to no income individuals and families living in the United States. This program is one of the largest in domestic hunger safety. So large, that about 48 million people utilize the program.
The program aims to help eligible people in assisting them to make nutritional and informed decisions about food. SNAP recognizes that New Jersey is one of the largest populations of SNAP recipients in the country, with numbers nearly doubling nationwide in times before a recession.
According to the website, www. povertyprogram.com, half of all American children will receive SNAP benefits before age 20, proving how much of an impact this program has on people.
On the other hand, as stated previously, many people do not have the means to provide both food and heat in their homes for their families. According to the 2012 USDA Analysis of FNS’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Fraud Prevention and Detection Efforts, many recipients take advantage of the SNAP program by trading their benefits for cash or such things that are banned by SNAP, like cigarettes and liquor.
Moreover, such fraudulent accounts may occur due to the fact that SNAP denies recipients hot foods. Go back to that cold winter night; a hot bowl of soup or a warm meal would certainly make a huge difference in someone’s life. Because there are no hot meals being served, it is arguable that the food SNAP does offer does not meet optimal nutritional standards.
In addition, SNAP has recently been under scrutiny for changing their requirements for eligibility. This change is so drastic that about a third of families will be affected, and no longer qualify for their food purchasing assistance services.
According to Hank Kalet, a writer for N.J. Spotlight, “The change in eligibility … is the result of the cancellation of a utility allowance for about 159,000 New Jersey Families.” That is a huge number of families that are left without a way to put food on the table.
No child should wonder when their next meal will be and no parent should have to worry when they will be able to put food on the table for their loved ones. Being forced to make the decision between paying for warmth in one’s own home and food should no longer be a reality.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is aimed at helping people not only get food, but also to have access to quality information about food. Despite recent complications with eligibility, SNAP is making progress to end hunger across the nation.