Building a Social Safety Net, One Serving at a Time

Michelle Bicking

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Food insecurity runs rampant across the state of Connecticut.

More than 490,000 Connecticut residents – one in ten adults – do not have sufficient food to eat on a daily basis. 131,000 children – or one child in seven – are deemed for food insecure. Food security is at its highest nationally and statewide amongst non-Hispanic/Latino/Latinx and Black households and lower-income households (those below 185 percent of the poverty threshold). Most of these households do not qualify for federal nutrition assistance programs and have to rely on local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for ongoing support.

Furloughs, business closures and limited employment options at a livable wage  in the wake of the COVID pandemic have severely hampered the buying power of most Connecticut families. By far, the most adversely affected (and  nearly half of recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)  Program) are households with minor  children. Food insecurity in children is positively correlated with  obesity, anemia, asthma, food and environmental sensitivities, developmental delays, behavioral issues and socioemotional issues such as depression and anxiety. Affected households are also more like to report diet-related conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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Addressing food insecurity is a complex problem that necessitates participation from all levels of government, in coordination with public-led entities in the ground. Concrete solutions to hunger cannot be explored separate from structural inequities steeped in racism, sexism and ablelism, coupled with intentional efforts to destabilize communities through economic divestment, limited transportation options, partisan gerrymandering  and supermarket redlining. 

As a state, we need to revisit arguments that center solely on the effects of geographic access to nutrient-dense foods (eg. prevalence of  food deserts and food swamps)  to push forward solutions that  create and maintain effective distribution channels to high-need areas. We also need to consider expanding networks to suburban and rural centers to reach a broader swath of food insecure households statewide. All elementary, middle and high  schools should offer free access to School Breakfast, School Lunch and Afterschool Meals Programs  year round for all students regardless of their socioeconomic status; All matriculated students at public universities and community colleges should have access to breakfast and lunch during the school term. A more concerted effort to divert food stuffs  from our landfills to food distribution centers, mobile pantries, emergency cooling and warming centers, neighborhood pantries and soup kitchens. In terms of aiding nerdy families in regaining their financial footing, we should consider supplementing financial support received from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants  and Children (WIC) and  Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) for three months beyond their last eligibility date, with an emphasis for children under 12, differently abled persons of any age on a fixed income or adults over 55.

Hunger is a social justice issue that can be solved in our lifetime. We are closer to building a social safety net for everyone in Connecticut when we target basic needs of the most vulnerable.

Michelle Louise Bicking, LCSW, MPA CD (DONA), is the Green Party candidate for Governor