Why American policy is leaving millions hungry

Perspective | Why American policy is leaving millions hungry
The Washington Post · by Rachel Louise Moran · August 7, 2018

Tom Camarello with Progressive Democrats of America and members from other organizations hold a rally in front of then-Rep. Henry Waxman’s office on June 17, 2013, in Los Angeles, over a House farm bill that would reduce federal spending on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Attempts to cut SNAP and add restrictions and qualifications to the program reflect a broader debate about hunger in America. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
A whopping 15.6 million American households experienced at least some food insecurity in 2016, meaning that more than 12 percent of the population did not always know when or how they would get their next meal. Despite this, Congress is debating making it even harder for the hungry to access government assistance. The House farm bill included revisions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) work requirements, adding more bureaucratic hurdles and decreasing available exemptions. President Trump supports the provision, signaling that as the House and Senate reconcile their farm bills the issue may become a sticking point.

Why would such a wealthy nation not only allow hunger to persist, but even put forward policies likely to exacerbate it? The answer rests in part in a misconceptualization of hunger. Paternalistic rhetoric about the importance of work in qualifying someone to receive governmental aid forgets the very reason we have food-based welfare in the first place — hunger and food insecurity — and strikes a blow against SNAP’s purpose. This rhetoric transforms the food choices and physical bodies of SNAP users into markers of how undeserving recipients are, implicitly asserting that starvation-level hunger is the only legitimate kind of hunger, and that it doesn’t exist in the United States. The end result is more hungry Americans.