I’m going to poke an elephant in the room.
Right now, the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp program) is simply the best tool we have at our immediate disposal for addressing chronic food insecurity in the U.S.
Problem is, in spite of its being one of the most-needed and best-managed government programs out there, a LOT of Americans have serious concerns about the way SNAP benefits are allocated. See the graphic above, which appeared in my Facebook stream. Unfortunately, as the discussion about the federal budget remains at the forefront, and as our country seems to get more ideologically polarized, we’re seeing more of this type of thing.
With 94 plant locations scattered across America’s heartland, we often get our earful of candid opinions as we advocate for the SNAP program internally. We take every opportunity to try to correct misperceptions about the program, up to and including the SNAP Challenge events we’ve done internally with Elanco.
Some people come by these opinions somewhat honestly. I remember being a young dad with three small kids, 20 years ago (before Tyson). We were struggling; driving beat-up old cars, and going into debt to survive. Our family probably could have easily qualified for Food Stamps, but we had great family support, and any time we were close to the edge, we had a safety net. Not everyone has that luxury. One day, standing in line at the local Safeway, I watched a woman ring up her cart with two tickets: a loaf of white bread, some potato chips, and a package of bologna, for which she paid with food stamps; and two packs of Marlboros and a six pack of malt liquor, for which she paid with cash. That experience prejudiced me against food stamps for a long time, until I began working closely with the hunger relief community and learned more about the issue.
Unfortunately, many people have either had experiences like this, or heard apocryphal stories that might similarly prejudice opinions.
The problem is, these are isolated incidents, and are not representative of the vast majority of those who benefit from the SNAP program. However, they can and most certainly do influence public opinion, and do make the job of defending against cuts to the program more difficult.
Fact is, USDA has done a good job of addressing abuse and fraud in the SNAP program in recent years, and it’s widely-regarded among government
However, if we’re going to continue to protect the resources allocated to SNAP, we’ll need to gain the support of people who might not have great confidence in the program. People who believe there’s a lot that could be cut before we start affecting those truly in need.
What can we do to inspire confidence in SNAP among those who are currently concerned?