In a recent article published by 5280, we learned Colorado ranks 45th in the nation for SNAP enrollment. And even more upsetting, President Trump’s proposed budget cut would slash the program by $17 billion next year alone. The administration also has proposed the “USDA Foods Package,” what they call a Blue Apron type box that would provide SNAP recipients with shelf-stable items such as milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables (NOTE; canned fruit and vegetables). Doesn’t sound very Blue Apron-esque does it? Can you guess where we stand on this issue?
Over the last couple of years, our Promotora team has worked tirelessly, thanks to a grant from Kaiser Permanante, to educate our community about SNAP assistance. Westwood has the highest percentage of eligible people for the program, yet, the lowest enrollment. Recognizing, there were likely significant barriers for enrollment within our community, Kaiser Permanente provided our Promotoras with training on the system, with the hopes they would be able to find out why our community was not utilizing the benefits and begin to enroll more community members.
First, a little context. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but was previously referred to as food stamps. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the name of the program was changed to place a greater emphasis on nutrition and take away the stigma associated with food stamps. Unfortunately, in many communities, including our own, that stigma is still there. The majority of our community members are first-generation immigrants from Mexico, and came here to provide for their families, so many of them see applying for the program as a failure on their part to do so. The second biggest barrier is misinformation, particularly fears around immigration services. Many of community members did not apply for the program because they had heard rumors that their names would be turned over to other agencies. That is simply not true, and something our Promotoras have to remind our community members of daily. Not helping the issue is that many of our community members who have applied in person for SNAP benefits have heard horrible things like, “Why are you asking for help here? Go back to your country,” or, “Mexicans only come to rob our jobs and our food.” These are from the employees at the office. Can you imagine going to get your driver’s license and being judged by the employees based on the kind of car you drive?
At Re:Vision, we believe access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege. We cultivate thriving, resilient communities by providing families with the tools and education they need to grow their own solutions. With that said, fresh organic produce is just one element to a healthy balanced diet. Between a garden and SNAP benefits, many of our Re:Farm program participants are able to provide their families with well-rounded nutritious meals.
One Re:Farm program participant would frequently supplement his family’s meals with food from a food bank. Once, our Promotora and SNAP Program Manager, Matilde Garcia Rubio, compared the nutritional information of a block of cheese he received from a local food bank and noticed the fat content was double that of a standard block of cheese. After more than a year of encouraging him to apply for the program, she used this example as a way to finally convince him he could not provide his family well balanced meals from food banks. So, he applied and now he says for the first time in 10 years, they are not worried about where their next meal will come from.
Another woman who participates in our Re:Farm program had the courage to leave an abusive relationship. After doing some math, she realized that she could cover her rent, and use SNAP benefits to help feed her family. She feels that without that help, she would have had to return to her marriage just to make ends meet.
But what about families who cannot have a garden? Food, especially healthy food and fresh, unprocessed produce, can get expensive, and when you are on a limited budget, often times those are the first items to go in favor of more shelf-stable items that stretch further. According to this New York Times blog 1,000 calories of fresh, nutritious foods can cost $18, vs $1.75 for processed foods. So it makes all the sense in the world that when families are having to stretch their food budgets, fresh, nutritious food is cut first. Studies have shown that SNAP recipients actually have better health indicators and lower risks for diet-related illnesses. So investing in SNAP is investing in our public health. That’s where the Westwood Food Co-Op comes in. A grocery store owned by the community, the Co-Op stocks affordable and healthy foods, accepts SNAP benefits and participates in the Double Up Food Bucks program. This program provides $20 for every $20 spent that can be used to purchase local and fresh produce. During the growing season, the Co-Op is almost bursting at the seems with produce from Re:Vision’s urban farm. It provides a community that otherwise has no access to healthy food with a variety of options.
As an organization, we provide the community with options to take control of their own health and become an active participant in growing their own sustainable change. We have worked for two years to help de-stigmatize SNAP benefits and de-mystify SNAP enrollment. Our Re:Farm program and the Westwood Food Co-Op also work together to provide supplements to create an overall healthy life, one that doesn’t come in a box, it is one that has to be cultivated, and earned, and our beautiful and vibrant community is doing that daily.