A couple of months ago, the federal government declared the COVID-19 pandemic officially over, signaling the end of an era of federal emergency response. And yet even before this official marker, we have witnessed a steady roll-back of the protections and programs that temporarily provided some measure of relief to poor and working class people during this crisis. We saw the eviction moratorium lifted and Emergency Rental Assistance funds exhausted. We saw Congress fail to preserve the Expanded Child Tax Credit, a program that helped to cut child poverty nearly in half. Now, we are facing the devastating cuts to SNAP (often referred to as food stamps) and Medicaid. An estimated 100,000 Marylanders will lose their healthcare. If that wasn’t enough, the recent debt limit deal imposes new work requirements on people up to 54 years old receiving SNAP and TANF benefits.
This Spring our statewide outreach has focused on these cuts as members began receiving letters in the mail that their food stamps were being slashed, in many cases from hundreds of dollars a month to less than $30. We asked who and how are people being affected by these cuts, but also why? Why in a country where 119 billion pounds of food is wasted each year is anyone struggling to eat?
As long-time member and great-grandmother Marie Diggins shared, “When I first got SNAP benefits I was homeless. But now that I have a place to live my expenses have gone up since the pandemic—gas and electric, water. The $153 I currently get is really not enough to live on. I skip meals because I'm not getting enough in SNAP benefits. I have skipped breakfasts. I don't bother with breakfast anymore.” She continued, “I don't think this is right. It is really stingy. The government has the funds to make sure people have enough to eat.”
The cruelty of these unnecessary cuts is underscored by the reality that they are coming at a time when food pantries and other emergency food providers are seeing an unprecedented demand, due to inflation generally and the rising prices of groceries specifically. We have seen the growing numbers at our food pantry outreach in Baltimore, Cumberland, and Westminster. We invited people to join us at our last round of Justice Jams to discuss the SNAP cuts and what we can do to fight back.
At our last Justice Jam in Cumberland, the library room where we met was packed 30 deep. Members from Baltimore traveled to hear how people in a rural Appalachian community were being impacted by these cuts. We talked about our rights and how to file for an appeal, but more importantly it served as a space to share our struggles and break our isolation. We discussed the interconnections between issues and what we need and deserve. People demanded jobs that paid a living wage and decried the terrible housing conditions in the community. One man who we have gotten to know over the past year finally shared his story, explaining that his minimum wage job was made worse by the great expenses he was made to pay for his employer-based healthcare.
After the meeting, Sidney Bond, a Media Team member from Baltimore, interviewed people further about how the SNAP cuts are impacting them. Allegheny County resident Sean Everhart explained his situation, “During the pandemic our food stamps were increased to $275 a month. With the rising costs of everything else, for 3 years we were accustomed to living off of that amount. Then I got a letter that our food stamps were being cut from $275 to $27 a month. Now food hasn't gotten any cheaper and all of our bills are going up. It’s not even worth the hassle and headache of going down to social services just for $27 a month. I’m on social security disability, I have a fixed income that doesn’t change.” Then he asked a question we are all asking, “How are we supposed to live off of $27 a month?”
One answer is that we’re literally not living off these crumbs. We’re dying. As recent research has revealed, poverty is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. These are life and death questions. How are we supposed to live off of $27 a month? Another answer is that we’re not supposed to live like this. We believe that our basic human needs are human rights. As Ms. Marie asserted, “This should be an obligation to make sure in the United States we have what we need to live.”
Have you experienced cuts to your food stamp benefits? If so, and you would like to learn more about your rights to an appeal contact Michael Coleman at 443-560-2810 or [email protected].
Project of Survival
Activities are continuing at the Hope Garden as we prepare for planting and harvesting. The Hope Garden is an essential project of survival especially now during this time when benefit cuts have left many households in dire need of support. We have regular build days every Thursday from 4pm-7pm. During build days we build raised garden beds, plant produce, share our stories and plan for the grow season. Come out and join us! For more information contact Michael Coleman at [email protected] or call (443) 560-2810.
Memorial - Ascended Leader
Ms. Rosemarie was kind, gentle, and thoughtful. She began to question why she struggled so much in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. She would attend Justice Jams, base building meetings, and our Membership Assembly last December. When we lose leaders like her in this fight, it is a loss to the entire movement family. Though we mourn and miss her we will also remember and celebrate her memory. Rest in Power Sister Rosemarie.