While Congress and President Trump renewed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the end of last year, the Trump administration is now attempting to take away this food assistance for struggling workers and families.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a rule in February that would significantly reduce eligibility and spending on SNAP. The administration is seeking these changes despite bipartisan opposition from Congress and despite projections from the USDA that estimate 750,000 adults would lose access to food assistance. The public comment period for the proposed rule closes on April 2.
SNAP, also known as food stamps, is the nation’s primary nutrition assistance program. SNAP helps put food on the table for more than 40 million low-income individuals, including 27 percent of LGBTQ adults aged 18-44.
Approximately 2.2 million LGBTQ adults experienced food insecurity in 2014. Food insecurity is defined as not having enough money to afford food for oneself or one’s family at any point during a year. In 2016, LGBTQ families were 2.3 times more likely to participate in SNAP than non-LGBTQ families. One reason for this is employment discrimination, a significant factor that directly contributes to LGBTQ poverty and unemployment rates. The numbers make clear that poverty is a critical LGBTQ issue: LGBTQ families need SNAP.
But I don’t need the data to tell me this. My family was one of those families.
The stigma of relying on food stamps made me embarrassed as a child, but now I am thankful for the support they have provided for my family. Having food stamps and other public assistance allowed my mother to build a stable and loving home for her kids. I don’t know how we would have survived otherwise.
Growing up in a single-parent household, my Black, lesbian mother depended on food stamps because her low-income wages were not enough. Despite working full-time at her $8 an hour job and seeking overtime whenever she could, my mom could not cover all of our family’s expenses, including the costs of food. Without the critical help food stamps provided, my mom would have struggled to keep a roof over our heads and food in the fridge.
Knowing how hard she worked, it was difficult to see her struggle. From working night shifts to maximize the waking hours she had with her three Black sons, to sometimes taking up a second job, my mom was relentless in her pursuit to provide for her family. Not wanting to add to her stress, I tried helping my mom by asking for very little growing up.
My mother was among the many working poor who are on SNAP. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, roughly three-quarters of adults who participate in SNAP in a typical month work that month or within a year of the month of their initial participation. My mother’s story is an unfortunate reminder that far too many people are working for poverty wages.
Even with food stamps, my mom still struggled to pay for food on a monthly basis. In times of desperation, she had to get creative by borrowing stamps or going to the local food pantry; I even recall some nights going to bed with my stomach growling. Even with food assistance, it’s sad to know that SNAP households still experience financial burdens that is eased but not alleviated by participation in the SNAP program — a Band-Aid remedy. If we struggled in the 1990s, imagine what families are going through now.
Many try to define Black mothers like mine as villains — “welfare queens” — in our national debate over public assistance programs. My mom was never a villain. She was and is my North Star. My mother taught me what it means to be authentic, resilient, loving, kind and generous.
My mother worked incredibly hard, but we still struggled. So many other LGBTQ families are facing the same challenges today. My family’s experience shows how SNAP strengthens families and our communities.
If finalized, the USDA’s proposed rule would result in LGBTQ people losing their access to affordable food through SNAP. This would have a harmful impact on the health and wellness of the LGBTQ community, as well as that of low-income Americans regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
The Trump administration must rescind its proposed rule and protect SNAP, our nation’s first line of defense against hunger.