Food banks need Congress to help shorten lines with more SNAP funding

It has become a piece of COVID-19’s visual history: aerial photos of hundreds of cars lined up to receive help from food banks. Parking lots across the nation are covered with snaking lines of pure need, enough to alarm even the most seasoned veterans of charitable relief.

In Texas, food banks in large urban areas are serving up to 10,000 per day. Across the state, food banks are feeding twice as many people as before the crisis, and National Guard members have been called in to help pack and distribute family food boxes. As the virus spreads, so does the need, with inventory leaving shelves more quickly than food banks can replace it. Some Texas food banks are now turning over an entire warehouse of food every two days.

Texas National Guard Members have supported the North Texas Food Bank’s food distribution efforts.

Congress and the Trump administration have pledged greater support for food banks through increased USDA commodities, pre-packed boxes of perishable product, and increased program flexibility.

We are thankful for this critical support that helps food banks meet the immediate direct need. We are here for our communities. However, those we are assisting need long-term help beyond what food banks can supply.

The real strength of food banking is in its nimbleness: responding to individual community needs, addressing gaps in our safety net and innovating over time. However, we need a solution that will shorten the lines.

Demands of this scale require more than innovation. They demand significant investment in proven solutions that will shrink, not just serve, that snaking line of cars.

SNAP is one of the most efficient and scalable tools the federal government has to reduce this nationwide economic crisis. The increased access to nutritious food provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has proven health benefits for people suffering diet-related conditions, who are among those most at risk of COVID-related hospitalization. SNAP benefits are a vehicle for economic stimulus, that guarantee personalized immediate and localized consumer spending in communities suffering the most.

Congress is now considering another coronavirus-themed legislative package. At the very least, the maximum benefit for SNAP participants should increase by a modest 15% and previous program improvements should extend for as long as this crisis lasts. The 15% SNAP increase included in proposed legislation mirrors an increase enacted by Congress to help families and accelerate economic recovery following the 2008 recession.

We can’t food-bank our way out of hunger — this is a common phrase heard among food bank leaders when discussing root causes and long-term solutions to hunger. It is just as true for the current economic and health crisis, which by most measures will be long and deep. We should fortify proven programs like SNAP to bring immediate direct assistance to our communities while continuing to give food banks the resources to fill in the gaps, as they are both designed to do.

Trisha Cunningham, President and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank

This editorial was published by the Dallas Morning News on May 17, 2020