The enormous food drop in Palm Coast for thousands of families at the beginning of the month was inspiring. So was a local business like Verdego devoting four days’ worth of revenue, their entire revenue, to a donation to Grace Community Food Pantry. So, of course, is Grace Community’s work on behalf of food-insecure families week in and week out, long before the coronavirus emergency.
But for all the applause these events and organizations deserve, there is some needed caution. While commendable and necessary, those efforts, which will always fill a need in our communities, are not enough. Not when they’re irregularly scheduled. Not when they draw on limited supplies. Not this year, not when they’re drawing the miles of carlines they do wherever they’re held, whether in Palm Coast or in San Antonio, Texas.
And because of the very positive attention these food drops are deservedly getting, the events may detract from government’s responsibility to provide a more systematic and proportionate response to the catastrophic economic consequences of the coronavirus emergency on Americans’ food budgets.
That response should be focused on an expansion of food stamps programs, otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. (The program began during the Great Depression, when recipients got actual blue and reddish stamps to use at grocery stores.) The federal government was relatively quick to provide $600-a-week checks for the unemployed a few weeks ago. It should be taking an equally responsible approach with food stamps, seriously loosening eligibility criteria–starting with waiving work requirements and certain assets limits–and tying recipients’ access to their unemployment status.
There are several reasons why the food stamps approach is urgent and why it is the guaranteed way of ensuring against hunger. There are just as many reasons why misconceptions about food stamps and that relish of smug judgments about handouts make no sense when applied to food stamps and would be sheer malice now.
The nutrition program takes advantage of a system already in place to make EBT or electronic benefit transfer cards available to families quickly and fairly, with amounts calibrated to family size. In Florida last year, the average benefit going to a household was $219 a month, and closer to $350 in households with children. That’s the sort of difference that helps keep a family out of poverty, or at least dire poverty: no one on food stamps is living the posh lifestyle. (Let’s dispense with the cliche condemnations of people using their EBT card at the checkout line while “speaking on their cell phone.” J.D. Vance used the stone-hurling image in his self-congratulating 2016 “Hillbilly Elegy” memoir of poverty conquered only to be demeaned, the book that titillated conservative contempt for what he called “government largesse.” To think of a cell phone as luxury is as foolish as thinking of electricity or indoor plumbing as a luxury. This isn’t 1990.)
EBT cards give families the choice to get the food they want, with the variety they need. No food bank can rival that variety, key to decent nutrition. They also allow their use at the grocery store of the user’s choice, if within the excessive constraints imposed on what they may and may not buy, and where. Florida made strides in lifting prohibitions on online shopping, as much for convenience as for safety. Why should anyone be forced to shop at a grocery store if he or she feels safer shopping from home? Let’s not spit out the cell phone slur on Instacart. Other restrictions should be lifted.
If it’s private enterprise you favor, food stamps are an economic stimulus for private business. They’re money in grocers’ pockets. They keep those grocery store employees and workers along their supply chains employed, including farmers and rural communities down the line (who right now, in a grotesque irony, are trashing products they can’t sell.) Food stamps also avoid the unintended consequences of big food drops competing or undermining local grocery stores.
Finally, EBT cards provide families with a measure of privacy they lack when they have to drive through a line at a food drop, however loving the welcome. Some families are facing these difficulties for the first time and should not be blamed for being reluctant to seek aid in a rather public way. That’s assuming all families and individuals can even make it to a food drop, or hear about it. Many people don’t fall in those categories. EBT cards empower a family, an elderly couple or disabled individuals with the certainty of food security within geographically certain means, whatever the circumstances.
None of this is to diminish the role and generosity of food drops. But no city, no club, no single company, no collection of faith-based organizations are up to the challenge of feeding thousands of families shocked into depression in every community. The ideological claim that it isn’t the government’s responsibility, that this is the time for charities to step up, is a cop-out. It ignores the size of the hunger crisis, and it gives feckless legislators the chance to claim that the problem is taken care of–to exploit food drops for ideological gain. The misplaced feel-good, emotional appeal of food distributions, amplified by a complicity among media as well meaning as that of food drop organizers, can end up giving government a pass by scuttling a broader, more systematic response.
This is a national emergency. It is a national responsibility. As heartening and important as these food drops are, they’re a supplement, not a replacement for what government can and must do. This virus is causing enough harm to millions. Let’s not add hunger to the list.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
Mayor Holland’s food drive was a joke, I hardly call a box of Southwest Airlines donated snacks is not feeding a family of four for a week. Just a weak political stunt.
The food distribution at Palm Coast was very helpful. But for the citizens who are truly in need, mostly shut in, and stay at home families, they would benefit from help with the Food Stamp program. There are so many people who do qualify with lower income levels, but way too many hoops to jump through. They need help immediately I appreciate the volunteers and donations that day, but the government need to assist with more meals for families.
[email protected] says
More free stuff for those who don’t plan for emergencies. Time for all to do better planning. Maybe big cars, big TV, ,getting expensive takeout food , no medical , home or auto insurance needs to be In wise financial planing. We put away 6 months living expense, drive 10 and 12 yr old cars . Time for people to live within their means.
Maybe going to school would have benefited now for this emergency. Why should those us who have a good financial plan should now pay for those who did not?
ABSOLUTELY! I volunteered at a food pantry before this pandemic and noticed all of the high end SUVs, women with their nails and hair done, jewelry on. Most had dogs and were smoking. Hmmmmm. BAD choices. Plus they were HUGE. Guess not shortage of food for them.
Great article, Pierre and RIGHT ON! With Florida’s ridiculous unemployment of $275 a week, those who have lost their jobs certainly need much more than “ANY” well meaning food package.
down so says
the article fails to mention the additional $600 fed money added weekly to the $243 is FL unemployment benefits, add those funds to the SNAP benefits plus a couple of $1,200 fed stimulus checks and you will see people not wanting to go back to work to take a pay cut.
And the Truth shall be told. It is a supplement well intended but not enough. Just in time for POTUS to cut back on some aspects of SNAP. As much as I agreeI will believe it when I see it. Many are in dire straits. The Govt. needs to step up.
The government is already expanding food stamps. I know plenty of people that are on food stamps since being furloughed or laid off due to the virus.
Let people go back to work and they will feed themselves.
Ya ever been hungry before payday? Food doesn’t just appear. Sometimes shit happens. PEOPLE need help. GO HELP if you have time to post an opinion.
CB from PC says
As a matter of fact I have been. And it was due to me not being paid for work I completed for a dishonest contractor. I scraped together change and scavenged for a couple of hours return deposit soda bottles. Bought a pack of hot dogs and some cans of beans. I was young and it taught me a valuable lesson. He also learned one.
Expand food stamps????? How about getting people off food stamps by getting them back to work. People have unnecessarily lost their jobs due to this pandemic. Get them back to work. Get those who have not worked in a long time depending on food stamps to find jobs
Most of these people at these food drives do not need the food. They drive 60000$ cars to these sites. They do the same thing at christmas with toy drives. Who do you think is gonna get all the extra food stamps if we expand the program? When we have drives of any kind we need to make these people prove their life has been affected by the virus. We need to stop these people from taking things from people who need them.
Love and War says
“Unnecessarily lost their jobs due to this pandemic”?
May good luck, health and fortune forever continue to rain down upon you and your’s. I guess.
Tony Mac says
Once again — the right wing canard that people getting SNAP assistance do not or refuse to work. Overlooked — “…Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing, according to a report published by Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 400 national and state-level progressive groups….”
Those workers qualify for SNAP because they are not paid a living wage… From Military.com…”According to a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office, more than 23,000 active-duty troops used the food stamp program in 2013, the last year for which such information was available…”
From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities …”About 1.3 million veterans live in households that participate in SNAP (formerly food stamps), CBPP analysis of data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey finds. In every state, thousands of low-income veterans use SNAP to help put food on the table. Florida has the largest number of veterans participating in SNAP (116,000), followed by Texas (97,000) and California (94,000) . In Oregon, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., at least 10 percent of veterans live in households that received SNAP in the last year….”
So yes, putting people back to work is important but paying them a living wage is more vital to getting them free of government assistance which we can be pretty certain that all those low-wage workers at Walmart (and other employers) would be happy to have a better life style for their families…
@Where are they?
trump, barr, desantis, scott, rubio, waltz
Locally, mouth breathing morons, that tout trump’s supposed donation of his presidential salary, remain oblivious to the fact that just his golfing has cost them the equivalent of more than 300 years of that salary. But these are the same idiots that confidently repeat the deadly nonsense of limbaugh, the murdoch family’s noise mahine, alex “cannibal” jones and the “f-ing moron” (according to the former secretary of state/ceo of exxon) trump itself.
Ever wonder what it was like to live under nero, hitler, stalin, mao, etc? Now you know.
Thanks twitter, facebook, et. al. – you have delivered us TO evil.
“Those who will not reason, perish in the act. Those who will not act, perish for that reason.”
― W.H. Auden
Perfect. Thank You
Bill C. says
Awe, your still sad that Hillary lost ……..BBWWWAAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
CB from PC says
The “message” in the original Pogo comic strip was usually pointless.
Welcome to Version 2.0.
Mike P says
People don’t need more hand outs! Business need to be allowed to open up! People need to be allowed to go back to work, that’s what they want and need. Open your Liberal eyes and stop trying to ruin an economy, and peoples lives just to TRY to win an election in November.
Trump could not conceive of needing. Just swindle another sucker to pay for his next few months. It’s ALWAYS been that way. Now, he’s put OUR country in debt to the Russians and Putin (plus the Saudi’s) for whatever bad debts he has created. This is obvious stuff people. Just follow the money and decisions. Supporting Trump is supporting your own demise. He only cares about you until Election Day. If you die thereafter, he got your sucker vote and he’s happy.
I, for one, will take my last expendable dollar and purchase food and necessities for those who need. Human Beings. Donate Donate Donate. Be Human, not Partisan.
Percy's mother says
The United States is beholden financially to CHINA, not Russia and/or Saudi Arabia.
Were you to do some reading and research, you would find that CHINA has been quietly buying up many of the banks in this county, many of the corporate farms, the seed producers in this country that provide the seeds that are sewn into the earth for grains, and CHINA holds United States DEBT. In other words, while everyone has been sitting in front of the TV listening to CNN, China has been gradually buying up most industry in the United States.
CHINA has also been quietly (or not, if you read), positioning itself in South America, Africa and the Middle East with infrastructure, airports and military bases.
Forget about Russia. That’s been a red herring for the media cast as a diversion tactic for uneducated people who don’t read and/or do any research.
Look up what “red herring” means.
You people really believe in Trump. He’s a do nothing, draft dodging coward. He sold you a bridge, and you’re asking for seconds.
Of course China owns everything, everyone knows that. Trump owes Russia and Saudi, and he’s paying back with our money.
Oh yeah, I don’t watch CNN. You just believe everything Fox & Friends tells you. Try having a unique thought, or keep parroting (I don’t care).
Gary R says
Good more people to get the two for one deal. They get $300 in food stamps and I give them $150 in cash. Use their food stamp card and get more groceries for myself. They use the cash to buy liquor and cigarettes.
We need benefits and stimulis for UNDOCUMENTED workers! Where is the relif for them?! The ones who keep this country running?! California has already sent out $500 to its UNDOCUMENTED workers ,when will Floriduh follow suit? We need it asap!!!
Gary R says
Give money to undocumented workers who are not permanent residents and not a U. S. citizen while Governor Newsome plans to layoff teachers, police officers, firefighters and other first responders if they don’t get federal relief. And, without additional assistance, the very programs that will help people get back to work — like job training and help for small business owners — will be forced up on the chopping block.
For the chest beating, selfish “know it alls”. . . may you reap what you sow! There but for the grace of a higher power go you! Enjoy your “holier than thou” power trip! You are NOTHING but a tiny, cowardly, insecure, uncaring pariah.
Imagine if we had cuomo instead of desantis. Maybe Florida would have over 5000 dead elderly who were sent to their deaths by the “great” governor of NY. Guess he must be a republican eh?
I will not judge those who need food assistance, for I certainly do not know their circumstances. I hope they are able to get the food they need—whether it be through food stamps, food banks, or a combination of both.
CB from PC says
It would not matter what kind of economic recovery happens under Trump.
Palm Coast is a horrible place to try to live while working. Wages suck and employers say take or leave them. Some newcomer is always waiting.
Those of you who want to “donate”,
make sure you have plenty in your wallet to take care of the “needy”. The foreclosures and repos are also on deck.
Honest Truth says
Florida has a Republican Governor who listens to Donald Trump, wake up people the Republican party don’t want to help its citizens the only want to help themselves.
Thanks to Scott who stoled from Medicare insurance and plead the 5th more times than you can count, made sure the people in Florida get the lowest employment checks in the whole USA. He and the rest of the Republicans want everyone to be on poverty levels while they line their pockets with money.
If you want to live under a dictator which is happening with Trump vote for him in November and the rest of his puppets. They can pretend they care and only act that way when its time for you to vote for them.
The old Republican party died and now it is the Corrupted Trump party, and if you don’t play his corrupt game, he will either fire you or bully you forever.
If it makes you feel better I gave my stimulus money back. I donated it to the RNC like any good republican would do
God, I hope that’s a joke. My tax money going to support Trump the Traitor. In a generation, saying Trump will have the same meaning in history as saying Benedict Arnold.
Yes! Absolutely! trump is the president. . . . and the buck stops there! ALL the pain and suffering caused by the completely botched response to this terrible pandemic is trump’s responsibility!!! Thanks so much for bringing that up.
Sean peckham says
Question I drive down us1 all the time to see people in Mercedes-Benz Cadillac and BMW picking up food or what I call paying the car payment does anybody check in with these people to see what they are really making on the side
Yes. . . all those millionaires have nothing better to do than hustle over to that food bank for hand outs. . . really? FOX/trump CULT – Your complete fear filled judgement and hatred of your fellow human beings is appalling! You do not know the circumstances of those driving new/expensive cars. . . perhaps they are caring for those less fortunate. What a concept!
Your ignorance shows when you do not understand that those who are overweight aren’t necessarily wealthy. . . they are often too poor/uneducated to eat a healthy diet. It’s really hard to get to the gym (they can’t afford) when working 2 or 3 jobs to support a family.
Do try a little common sense, compassion and understanding of your fellow human beings! If you still have a conscience, you will sleep better for it.
No one is complaining about millionares, its the people that work normal jobs making 45 k a year driving late model cars, talking on an iphone , their children having 3 pairs of shoes with a t.v. in their bedroom and an xbox. But now you u need assistance!? Did they even consider selling a few impracticle luxuries before taking a handout? People in our society are being sold on a lifestyle that is above their means and instead of admitting they are not as well to do as they may imagine they are in their little bubble, they contiue wearing designer clothes and buying their kids video games when they should be collecting cans and glass bottles and taking them to turn in for scrap money.
Land of no turn signals says says
I don’t have a problem that some families need help at times but lets see how many of these needy families who don’t have money for food spends hundreds of dollars on fireworks for 4th of July.