by Melanie Thompson
Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has our country in turmoil. Many Americans have lost their jobs, schools have temporarily shut down, businesses are financially unstable, and many people are falling ill or losing a loved one. This is a very trying and unfortunate time in our history and these misfortunes are affecting everyone. However, there is a population even more affected by COVID than others that is not getting enough attention—SNAP recipients.
Nearly 40 million low-income families are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and receive food stamp benefits. The average household income in the United States is approximately $59,000. For a family of four, the federal poverty income guideline is $26,200. For a household size of four, an income of less than approximately $33,000 a year is needed to be eligible for SNAP benefits. Between rent, utilities, food, transportation costs, tuition, laundry and many other household needs, no family of four can survive off of $33,000 a year. Every person who is enrolled in this program is living on or below the federal poverty line, meaning that they are already marginalized and most likely struggling to supply their families’ basic needs. Many people who apply for SNAP benefits do so because they are disabled, elderly, struggle with finding work opportunities, need assistance for their children or do not have access to the resources necessary to live sustainable lives. Not only has this pandemic caused an increase in our country’s anxiety levels, but it has increased the food insecurities and further strained the economic stability of SNAP recipients and their families.
I want to make clear that I recognize COVID-19 has impacted families of all income brackets and do not want to minimize the effects that the pandemic has had on these families. However, it is imperative that we shed light on SNAP recipients and their families as they are a population of individuals who are twice as much affected than those families who do not receive food stamps. Many people are choosing to utilize delivery services for their food, beverage and household supplies needs during this time, ensuring that they are spending less time outside, less times in stores, and therefore at less risk for contracting the coronavirus. However, delivery services do not accept SNAP as a valid method of payment. Additionally, the few supermarkets who do deliver groceries also require that you come in person to pay using your SNAP benefit card and only then will they deliver to your house, which kind of defeats the point.
The majority of individuals who receive SNAP benefits are also the same individuals who cannot afford a car, live in neighborhoods that are considered food deserts, and utilize public transportation. This further puts an already marginalized population at risk. To require that disabled, elderly, poor, or struggling individuals-- who during this crisis most likely cannot afford items like face masks or disinfectants-- travel on public transportation to their local grocery store, sends the message to our society that we are punishing those who are marginalized for being marginalized and that we don’t care about their health and safety.
This pandemic has affected the lives of everyone and has caused permanent damage on our country. Yet still, SNAP recipients and their families are not being cared for or empathized with in the way other families are. This is the perfect opportunity for our government to take notice of how they are failing a vast population of people—many of whom are taxpayers and upstanding contributors to society. Do they not deserve the same protections and opportunities as everyone else? Should we continue to allow a marginalized group of people to be put at risk just because they do not have the financial ability to sustain themselves? It is time that we make these families a priority.
About the author:
Melanie Thompson is the Youth Outreach Coordinator at the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and is separately a speaker, activist, and leader in the global fight to end prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation. Trafficked and sold into prostitution in New York at the age of 12, she was later arrested and placed into foster care. She became an activist at age 14. Ms. Thompson has testified before numerous legislatures about the need to pass strong anti-trafficking laws and ending the arrests of sex trafficked and prostituted children and people in the sex trade. She is a student at the City University of New York and plans to open a non-profit organization to assist victims of trafficking and foster care.