Pandemic exposes U.S. food insecurity crisis nonprofits alone cannot fix

Liz Kanter Groskind

As Jews, we are commanded to be just, to aid and care for those most vulnerable among us. The word “tzedakah” itself translates to “justice,” not simply “charity,” as many believe. This is a value  Jews have internalized and acted upon over the centuries. Social justice is not merely a concept but work that we must do to repair our imperfect world.

Right now, people across America are waiting in lines thousands of cars deep to get food from food banks, farmers are dumping unsellable produce and dairy products, and national leaders are unable or unwilling to provide the leadership to do what is necessary to get our country through this unprecedented situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a number of crises, each of which requires bold actions by our government. Each day, more people around the country are facing “food insecurity,” which means they do not know where they will get food for their next meal, or for their family’s next meal. Charities cannot fix this growing problem alone, nor should they be relied upon to do so. Food banks and pantries simply do not have the capacity or infrastructure to meet the growing need.

As the national board chair of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, I am keenly aware that only our federal government has the resources needed to address the growing hunger crisis in the wake of COVID-19. Congress and federal officials must act immediately to improve the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to promote the health, safety, wellbeing, and dignity of all. Arizona’s congressional delegation must immediately prioritize boosting SNAP, which is the cornerstone of our country’s nutrition safety net. SNAP is one of the most effective federal assistance programs, but the current benefit level is insufficient to fully meet the growing needs resulting from the pandemic. Our leaders must ensure that the next COVID-19 Response bill provides the following improvements:

  • Increase the maximum SNAP benefit by 15%;
  • Raise the minimum SNAP benefit from $16 per month to $30 per month to ensure that low-income seniors and others who receive it can afford put food on the table;
  • Enable and implement SNAP online shopping so nobody is forced to take the unnecessary risk of leaving their home just to buy food;
  • Suspend the misguided and harmful SNAP regulatory changes that the current administration has proposed;
  • Remove an unintended barrier that prevents struggling military families —including some right here in our backyard at Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the U.S. Army Fort Huachuca — from qualifying for SNAP.

Strengthening SNAP will not only help millions of Americans who are struggling to put food on the table — it will also stimulate the economy and contribute to a faster national recovery.

People are hurting right now. There will be even more suffering from food insecurity in the weeks and months to come. The inequalities laid bare by this pandemic must be acknowledged and addressed immediately. Our legislators must work to alleviate them with these suggested changes to our existing system. This is the work of the federal government.

It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. —Pirke Avot 2:21

Please join in this urgent effort at www.mazon.org/take-action/covid — together we will get through this.

Liz Kanter Groskind lives in Tucson. She is the national board chair of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the AJP or its publisher, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona