Today, Seventh State is pleased to present a guest post by Manna Food Center CEO Jackie DeCarlo. Manna is a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in Montgomery County through food distribution, education and advocacy.
The holiday season is upon us, which means hunger relief organizations all over Maryland are welcoming an uptick in volunteerism and donations. While the individuals who organize food drives, pick up and deliver food, and volunteer at food pantries are critical to addressing hunger in our communities, their efforts will be undermined if threats to our social safety net currently working their way through Congress come to fruition.
Specifically, the federal tax plan headed for passage—and cuts to vital programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Programs (SNAP) that will likely accompany the price tag for that plan—will cause more Marylanders to tumble further into the kind of poverty that comes with inevitable hunger.
Even though Maryland is the wealthiest state in the nation, one in eight households struggles against hunger and programs like SNAP improve the lives of those neighbors on a daily basis. In Montgomery County, one of the richest counties in our state, one in three of our schoolchildren is food insecure, and there are large pockets where high unemployment and poverty rates prevail. Every day at Manna Food Center, we see the value of SNAP and other social safety net mainstays such as housing assistance programs and low-income tax credits.
A case in point is Sasha, a woman Manna has had the honor to serve. Sasha immigrated to the United States ten years ago, married and had a child, then was forced to leave an abusive husband. She didn’t have a job and found it hard to provide for her children, but the food she received from Manna helped her make it through an incredibly difficult time in her life, and eventually stand on her own.
There are countless stories like Sasha’s, which is why it so upsetting to see the budget Congress is debating on the heels of untested approaches to tax “reform.” Cuts being considered would likely cause millions of Americans to tumble further into the kind of poverty that comes with inevitable hunger. Regardless of political affiliation, there seems to be agreement that more responsibility is falling to local governments and local businesses.
Already in Montgomery County, our local government is trying to do its part to address hunger and poverty. This year, elected leaders worked with the food assistance community to develop a five-year strategy to reduce the number of food insecure neighbors by 22 percent. The plan aims to address the root causes of poverty and economic disparities through programs such as workforce training and youth skills building that ensure no one is left out of our county’s rapid development and growing prosperity.
The council also recently passed, and the County Executive signed, legislation securing a $15 minimum wage, a great step toward giving people financial autonomy – and one Governor Hogan should emulate so all of the state’s low-wage workers can enjoy a boost in earning. Even with those positive measures, however, the reality is that the minimum wage increase won’t be enough to raise people out of poverty, and none of our local government’s commendable plans amount to a silver bullet that will end hunger.
Therefore, the commitment of the local business community will also be required. Food businesses, in particular, can play an important role in alleviating hunger throughout Maryland. Through Manna’s Community Food Rescue network, Montgomery County farms, grocers, food service companies and restaurants donate unsold and surplus food that gets matched through an app and delivered by volunteers to food assistance organizations. In its first two years, the CFR network has recovered more than 2.3 million pounds of food—the equivalent of 1.9 million meals. As more businesses recognize the importance of getting food to people who need it, instead of to the landfill, the potential impact of food recovery programs here and across the state is tremendous.
Even with these positive local steps, ending hunger and poverty will be impossible without strong federal programs like SNAP, which helps ensure low-income families have enough to eat. SNAP benefits equal about $1.40 per person per meal, and if the budget passes with proposed SNAP reductions, food assistance organizations won’t be able to fill the gap.
While we have many reasons to be grateful this holiday season, I am concerned about what we stand to lose. The commitment of volunteers and donors who do their part to end hunger in communities nationwide must be matched by the commitment of businesses and, especially, policymakers at all levels of government. Rather than watching idly as a tax plan that does significant harm to those in greatest need gets passed, our local and state leaders should emphatically convey to Congress and the administration that their recklessness is unacceptable, and they will fight for the preservation of our social safety net.
Jackie DeCarlo is the CEO of Manna Food Center, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger in Montgomery County through food distribution, education and advocacy.