By Sherrie Tussler
Executive Director, Hunger Task Force
Hunger persists in Wisconsin. Throughout the pandemic, a good deal of federal financial assistance streamed to states and communities to address the pandemic’s impact on unemployment, supply chain interruptions and inflation.
Free food provided by charities won’t solve lasting hunger. Hunger Task Force has distributed tens of millions of pounds of food each year since the start of the pandemic, yet the problem of hunger across Wisconsin persists.
Ending hunger in Wisconsin, a state that produces far more food than its citizenry can consume, shouldn’t be that difficult. Still, in Milwaukee the incidence of poverty is 18.3%, and where there is poverty, hunger follows.
This is not just a Milwaukee problem. From far north in Ashland County where the poverty rate is 16.1%, or Grant County in the southwest where 15.1% of folks live in poverty, hunger affects every region of our state: urban, rural and remote.
There is an existing solution that can feed people today, tomorrow and next year. The solution is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP provides low-income households struggling to make ends meet with food buying power each month until they are back on their feet. This 100% federally funded program has been around for decades—we used to call it “Food Stamps.”
In Wisconsin, SNAP is called FoodShare. FoodShare has been criticized in the past as creating dependency. People who got FoodShare were suspected of drug use and work avoidance. But when the pandemic hit and record numbers of Wisconsinites lost their jobs, they turned to FoodShare to get help with food. Suddenly almost everyone knew someone who needed FoodShare—a brother, a friend, a co-worker.
FoodShare not only fed people during the pandemic, but it stimulated our agricultural and food producing economy. Farmers, food producers, grocery store workers and truck drivers became essential workers and people buying food helped them to continue working. FoodShare also has an economic multiplying effect. Did you know that every dollar in FoodShare spent multiplies to between $1.22 and $1.50, and over 95% of benefits are redeemed at stores and markets? FoodShare creates jobs and supports the local food economy.
It’s time to re-think how people with limited cash reserves put food on the table and the impact this program has on our local economy. The time to act is now. Let’s fully enroll the FoodShare program and end the stress of being hungry in the Dairy State.