- Emily Shearer is the food acquisition manager for Food Bank of Iowa.
It’s a weird thing to work to put yourself out of a job. But each day at Food Bank of Iowa, I source food to ensure Iowans facing food insecurity in 55 counties have something to put on their plates. I buy from vendors — both local and national; I order food available through TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program); and I ask donors — a lot — for wholesome food that’s unsaleable.
I don’t envision always doing this work. I look forward to the day when people are paid a living wage, able to afford a roof over their heads, and can rely on a full plate of food — for every meal. While I do this work, though, I want to make an impact.
The first line of defense in reducing food insecurity has been, and continues to be, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP allows approved participants to purchase a set dollar amount of food at the grocery store. They currently have the option to choose staples including meat, cheese, canned fruits and vegetables, soup and pasta sauce.
With the introduction of House File 3, Iowa legislators have proposed sweeping changes that would severely limit choice and access to food for people in need. Among the most drastic proposals is their desire to limit SNAP purchases to only foods on the list approved for the Women, Infants and Children program.
SNAP participants — more than two-thirds of whom are families with children — wouldn’t be able to purchase meat and pasta sauce to pack in their lunches. Seniors on fixed incomes and persons with disabilities, who comprise the remaining third, wouldn’t be able to purchase canned fruits and vegetables. And hungry kids couldn’t serve themselves a PB&J after school, because jelly’s not allowed.
SNAP doesn’t just help food-insecure households. This federal program also supports businesses, creates jobs and boosts the local economy. For every $1 in SNAP benefits used, $1.54 goes back into local communities.
Legislators would have you believe House File 3 isn’t all bad. After all, they’ve allocated $1 million for the Double Up Food Bucks program, which connects low-income families with healthful food grown by Iowa farmers. The trouble is, with a limited food list and more than 350,000 Iowans facing food insecurity, those dollars won’t go far.
Last year, I spent 650% more to stock the shelves of our 700 partners across the state than I did in previous years. A decrease in SNAP benefits last April is one reason Food Bank of Iowa and its partner pantries have served record numbers of individuals and households every month since. Food insecurity doesn’t wear a uniform. Hungry people don’t have a look. These are our children, families, veterans and seniors — and they’re struggling. Please tell your legislators and members of the House Health and Human Services Committee that you do not support this harmful bill.
Emily Shearer is the food acquisition manager for Food Bank of Iowa.