Prior to the onset of COVID-19, one in 11 Coloradans worried every day about whether they could afford to put food on the table. Today, with unprecedented unemployment, it’s almost one in three according to a survey by Healthier Colorado.
We need action to ensure Coloradans have the food they need as our state recovers, including an increase to federal SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits by 15 percent.
The number of Coloradans now worried about their family’s next meal is shocking and is putting incredible stress on our emergency food system.
Many of our partner food pantries are seeing two to six times the usual number of people seeking help. Hunger Free Colorado’s Food Resource Hotline has seen three times the usual number of calls. Food Bank of the Rockies has nearly doubled the amount of food it distributes to families and other providers.
The response has been quick and critical, but it has brought to light something we’ve always known – emergency food assistance by itself is not enough.
Federal nutrition programs, like SNAP, WIC, and older adult meals play a crucial role in giving Coloradans a solid foundation for health. We appreciate our Colorado leaders who have supported short-term funding increases and improved flexibilities to make these programs more effective for those in need. Most SNAP recipients, for example, received an emergency boost in benefits in April and May. But the current short-term response is wholly insufficient to address the long-term economic impact of this pandemic on Colorado families.
The next COVID-19 response package passed by Congress must ensure families have access to healthy food, not just in the next few months but over the next few years.
During the Great Recession, a similar SNAP increase kept hunger from rising even as unemployment did. SNAP is the most efficient and impactful program to respond to downturns because it gets families resources quickly and spurs spending that supports retailers and farmers.
We ask that our Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner work to include a long-needed 15% increase to SNAP benefits in the next response package, and that we continue the nutrition resources and flexibilities put in place until Colorado families rebound from COVID-19. Colorado families need our federal leaders to act now to prevent the increased inequities in food access during this pandemic from becoming our new norm.
Thank you to so many who are helping during this challenging time — those who are donating, those who are helping distribute food to our community, and those who are working on these vital programs and policies including Colorado’s federal leaders. Supporting each other, we can meet this challenge now and in the future. We have the opportunity to ensure every Coloradan has equitable access to the nutritious food we all depend upon to thrive.
Erin Pulling and Marc Jacobson direct Food Bank of the Rockies and Hunger Free Colorado respectively.