I never thought that I would find myself in need of SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. After successfully graduating from college with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology, I was sure I would have a job in the bag.
Unfortunately, that was not my story. When I graduated in December 2007, I was also five months pregnant, and let’s just say the economy was at its worst since the 1930s. I needed a temporary lift until I could find work, and SNAP was a true lifesaver. Being able to receive help from Medicaid and SNAP allowed me to deliver a beautiful baby girl and provide the nutrition she needed as a breast-feeding mother.
Women are disproportionately affected by hunger, whether it’s because of an abusive situation or even the reality that we make less than men for doing the same jobs. North Carolina is the ninth-hungriest state in the country, and SNAP is hands-down the best way to ensure North Carolinians have enough to eat.
In 2013, SNAP benefits generated about $2.5 billion into North Carolina’s economy. Food assistance provides families and jobless workers with critical support to purchase food at local grocery stores and retail outlets. This helps the economy at large by increasing demand, saving jobs and creating some.
SNAP benefits also help grow the economy by creating a ripple effect. Moody’s Analytics recently estimated that in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
Our vulnerable neighbors
Many people don’t know how SNAP works. It targets the most vulnerable Americans to help ensure that seniors, veterans and children get enough to eat each day. In a typical month in 2014, SNAP helped an average of 46 million Americans, including 1.5 million right here in North Carolina. SNAP lifted more than 10 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including 5 million children, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
I’m deeply concerned about cuts to the program that will lead to greater food insecurity throughout our state, harming not only individuals but also local economies. Over the course of 2016, more than 100,000 North Carolinians are at risk of losing their SNAP benefits because of a provision that limits the length of time an adult without children is allowed to receive food assistance while out of work. Waivers have allowed some of our very poor neighbors who live in communities with weak labor markets to receive SNAP and weather the economic downturn, but state lawmakers permanently banned such waivers after July, and everyone faces a three-month limit.
Though the economy has certainly improved, there are still scores of men and women unable to find stable employment despite their best efforts. Of the state’s 100 counties, 89 have more people looking for work than available job openings. Eliminating the SNAP waiver will not create opportunities but will only increase economic hardship for some of our poorest neighbors.
The last few years have been successful and adventurous for my family. I have been able to take my mole hill and move mountains by starting a business and to use my experience as a way to speak out against the injustices taking place in North Carolina. The economy in North Carolina isn’t working well for everyone, and SNAP was a savior in a time of need. Others in our great state who need temporary assistance to keep food on the table may not be able to regain their economic footing under the harsh three-month limit.
I hope that someday soon all North Carolinians who are able to work will be earning enough and won’t have to rely on help. But for the time being, I’m so grateful for the role that SNAP has played in filling in the gaps that exist in our economy.
Jessica H. Murrell of Durham is program director of Lango Kids RTP.