In the aftermath of the Great Recession, headlines have trumpeted the state’s recovery and inspired hope for a bright future filled with abundant jobs, comfortable incomes and a high quality of life for Michiganians. As the League’s new policy brief, Still Hungry: Economic Recovery Leaves Many Michiganians Without Enough To Eat, explains, what these headlines don’t capture is that the recovery hasn’t touched everyone in our state equally, and people at the lower end of the economic scale still struggle disproportionately with unemployment, underemployment and low wages. For many, income and employment gains have been insufficient to overcome rising food prices and other barriers to healthy food access. As a result, roughly 1.5 million Michiganians still don’t have enough to eat. This is not the time to downsize our anti-hunger efforts. Instead, we should preserve and expand existing programs that have proven effective and implement other reforms to ensure that all Michiganians have the fuel they need to lead healthy, productive lives and keep our state on an upward trajectory.
Certain people experience food insecurity and hunger more than others or are particularly vulnerable to the associated negative impacts. These residents and families who are struggling would be harmed disproportionately by proposals to restructure government nutrition programs and slash funding for other services that provide a basic standard of living for millions of Americans.
Households with children are less food secure than those without children. This is troubling because it’s difficult for hungry parents to support their families and raise healthy children, and nutrition is so important to children’s health and development, academic success and prospects for the future.
Seniors and people with disabilities often have increased nutritional and healthcare needs while also facing limited income opportunities and mobility challenges. This combination presents barriers to healthy food affordability and access.
In rural areas, poverty is often higher than average, full-service grocery stores may be rare and dental care providers may be scarce. Further hindered by a lack of public transit, rural residents may struggle with food availability, affordability and accessibility more than those living in urban and suburban areas.
A long history of public policy shaped by racism has left Black and Latino households at a broad disadvantage which leaves them particularly susceptible to the devastation that comes with a national economic crisis. As a result, food insecurity among households of color remains significantly higher than the peak level of food insecurity experienced by White households during the Great Recession.
Although some people are more affected by hunger than others, ultimately we all pay the price of food insecurity as the negative health impacts trigger a domino effect that burdens families, strains the healthcare system, harms the viability of our workforce and increases poverty.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and a number of other federal services provide much of the funding that our state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations rely on to fight hunger in our communities. Other state and local initiatives involving government, nonprofit entities and the business community further fight hunger and boost the state’s agriculture and grocery industries.
These services help families achieve food security, keep people out of poverty, promote health and stimulate our economy. For these reasons, the League is pleased that Michigan’s 2018 budget includes funding for several healthy food access initiatives, such as $500,000 for the purchase of wireless equipment that will enable more farmers markets to accept Bridge Cards, support for Double Up Food Bucks to combat the effects of lead poisoning in Flint, and expansion of the 10 Cents a Meal program.
These resources, however, aren’t sufficient to serve everyone in need and address root causes of hunger, so society continues to incur billions of dollars in avoidable costs through poor health and a less dynamic workforce. Ensuring access to adequate healthy food presents one of the most cost-effective opportunities to strengthen our state’s greatest resource—its people—and promote our state and national prosperity.
— Julie Cassidy