“Right now, 148,000 Rhode Islanders are enrolled in SNAP. One proposal by the Trump Administration, aimed primarily, believe it or not, at families with children, would take SNAP away from 11,000 Rhode Islanders, including 5,000 children.“
“In a perfect world, every one in Rhode Island would have three meals a day,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Rhode Island Food Bank. “Access to good food is essential for good health. For children, access to good food is essential for them to grow, develop and learn.
“When we make sure that everyone in Rhode Island has access to three healthy meals a day, we’re protecting the huge investment that we’ve made in education and health care. Unfortunately, thousands of low-income Rode Islanders miss out on meals because they can’t afford adequate food.
The 2019 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island, says Schiff, highlights a significant meal gap in Rhode Island.
“This year’s Status Report on Hunger updates the data we released in 2016 regarding missing meals in Rhode Island,” continued Schiff. “Even with a safety net that includes income, federal assistance and food pantries, low-income Rhode Islanders are missing millions of meals. We have seen some improvement mostly because more people are working and able to purchase their own food. But with pending cuts to SNAP, we could lose the gains we’ve made in the past three years. Low income Rhode Islanders miss out on six percent of the meals that they need. In a year, that totals up to more than 11 million meals.
This graph shows how low-income Rhode Islanders purchase meals. “They purchase food with their own cash, with SNAP benefits, with WIC benefits, their kids are able to get free school lunch and school breakfast, and we know that many low-income households also depend on member agencies of the Food Bank to for food assistance.”
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The chart below makes two points, said Schiff. “One is that the main source of meals for low-income Rhode Islanders are the Federal nutrition programs. And also, even with the Federal nutrition programs, and all of the help that people receive from charitable programs through the Food Bank, low income Rhode Islanders are still missing millions of meals.”
Through their survey, “we learned that the people on line at food pantries are mostly either parents with young children or senior adults. So children and senior adults are our most vulnerable citizens, and the ones who are most harmed by hunger,” said Schiff.
“The senior adults that we serve have low, fixed incomes and can’t afford basic household expenses including food. The families of children that we serve are headed by working parents who aren’t earning enough to be able to provide their families with the food they need.
“We discovered that the population served by the Food Bank has seriously compromised health. Households reported high levels of illness and disease, including diabetes and hypertension. Along with the human suffering caused by poor health, there is also a financial cost to society. Researchers at the CDC [Center for Disease Control] have shown for that health care costs related to food insecurity in Rhode Island cost $160 million a year. “
The vast majority of people facing food insecurity in Rhode Island are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program that “provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.”
“75 percent are enrolled in SNAP. That’s a good thing,” said Schiff. “But they also told us, in the interviews, that the SNAP benefits don’t last long enough. For most people, their SNAP benefits last for just one or two weeks. and then they have to turn to food pantries for help.
“The underlying problem is that SNAP benefits haven’t kept up with the real cost of food. One way to close the meal gap is to re-calibrate SNAP benefits to match the actual cost of food today. Unfortunately,” continued Schiff, “the Trump Administration is moving in exactly the wrong direction. During the past year the administration has made three major proposals to cut SNAP benefits and eligibility.
“Right now, 148,000 Rhode Islanders are enrolled in SNAP,” said Schiff. “One proposal by the Trump Administration, aimed primarily, believe it or not, at families with children, would take SNAP away from 11,000 Rhode Islanders, including 5,000 children.”
Schiff recommended the following action steps:
- Submit comments at regulations.gov telling the USDA that the proposal to cut SNAP benefits would increase food insecurity and hunger in Rhode Island.
- Urge the Rhode Island Department of Health at ri.gov/contact to conduct a statewide campaign to promote eWIC and boost WIC enrollment among families with young children.
- Contact your state representative to advocate for legislation requiring high-poverty school districts in Rhode Island to provide “breakfast after the bell” to increase School Breakfast participation.
- Contact the Governor at governor.ri.gov demanding an increase to state funding for the Food Bank to ensure that food pantries and meal programs can serve everyone in need.
Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island):
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island):
Ann Barone, Chief of the WIC Program at the Rhode Island Department of Health:
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