Inclusive Farm Bill Advocacy: Advancing Food Justice for All

November 17, 2023 Author: Mario X. Carrasco

Soaring interest rates on borrowing and sharp increases in food prices have become harsh realities for many Americans. While there is speculation about inflation easing, the stark reality is that millions of Americans grapple with food insecurity.

Many argue that the food system in the U.S. is fundamentally flawed. Despite boasting the world's largest gross domestic product (GDP), the nation remains plagued by rising rates of homelessness and hunger. Countless children go to school hungry every day, relying on free or reduced-price lunches, often their only nutritious meal of the day, before returning to homes lacking access to fresh, healthy food.

Two common approaches to combating social issues like food insecurity involve programs and policies. One such program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, while the policy in question is the Farm Bill.

SNAP serves as the first line of defense against hunger. However, the stigma associated with the program and misconceptions surrounding its benefits and accessibility have made it a target for some lawmakers and their constituents.

Systemic barriers restrict access to the program for those who need it most. For instance, while seemingly fair on the surface, the requirement to work a minimum of 20 hours per week fails to account for the realities of life experiences stemming from poverty, such as lower education levels and criminal history, factors that can significantly impact employability.

SNAP's modest benefits, amounting to essentially $2 per person per meal, are inadequate to cover the rising cost of food today. Nevertheless, it helps keep food on the table for families and supports small businesses like local farmers who grow and sell food to local markets, creating jobs in the community.

Critics of the program point to a perceived lack of personal responsibility among those in need as reasons to dismantle it. However, hunger is not a consequence of personal failings but a symptom of systemic injustice. Programs like SNAP should be more inclusive of the people they serve and not be subject to policy changes designed to cut government spending without addressing the underlying needs that necessitate these programs. Such changes are often based on harmful stereotypes.

Everyone feels the impact of an unhealthy food system. By actively informing Congress about the real-life struggles of those affected, we can collectively advocate for meaningful solutions.

In this episode of The New Mainstream podcast, Christina Wong, former Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at Northwest Harvest, shares insight into the Farm Bill’s SNAP provisions and the push for food equity.

Please Note: Christina Wong now serves as Vice President of Programs at Washington Conservation Action.