On Friday, January 12th─as they do every Friday─ many schools in Arkansas sent food backpacks home with students they knew would be at risk of not getting enough to eat over the weekend. Because school would be out on Monday for the Martin Luther King holiday, schools added a little additional food in the backpacks. Under normal circumstances, those kids would have been back in school today, Tuesday the 16th, where they would be assured of getting breakfast and lunch. But today is a snow day; cause for celebration for some, but for more than 176,000 kids in Arkansas who are food insecure, it’s another day they might get little or nothing to eat. For low-wage working parents who earn too much to qualify for SNAP but don’t earn enough to make ends meet, it is especially difficult. Without the reduced price school meals their kids receive, putting enough nutritious food on the table is a struggle.
In 2016 more than 426,000 Arkansans received SNAP benefits and more than 40 percent were in working families. According to Working America’s Still Hungry: National Report on Hunger, from Hunger Free America, 165,000 Arkansas workers are food insecure. USDA child nutrition programs and food assistance programs like SNAP are the only hedge many kids and their families have against hunger, and for the working poor who don’t qualify for assistance, it is looking bleak indeed. Sadly, lawmakers seem to have little regard for their plight.
There are threats to the federal nutrition programs that would tighten eligibility requirements making fewer families eligible. Arkansas families who presently qualify for food assistance benefits may find themselves ineligible and forced to look to food pantries that are already under great stress. Without wage increases (Arkansas’s minimum wage is $8.50 an hour), or adequate job training resources (there have already been federal budget cuts to job training programs) more low-wage workers and their families will face the probability of food insecurity with few options available to them.
Snow days were once gifts from Mother Nature that meant a day off, hot tea and a good book by the fire. Now they remind us that many thousands of Arkansas kids are missing the only meals they can depend on and families are struggling to make due. The people in Washington who can enact legislation aimed at ending hunger in America are sharpening their pencils and hardening their hearts. Let them know that federal nutrition programs are vital to high poverty states like ours and that you support increased funding so our kids and working families have a chance to get ahead. Contact your legislators at https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact and https://www.house.gov/representatives. Your voice is powerful. Use it.