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U.S. cuts food aid amid sky high inflation

Tehran Times – As military assistance to Ukraine increases, food assistance to millions of Americans decreases. The U.S. administration has ended the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), leaving tens of millions of Americans worse off.

SNAP was introduced to help American families buy food during the COVID pandemic, but with inflation still very high, why is the U.S administration terminating the program now?

The Ukraine war has prolonged the suffering among American households, who endured severe hardship during the pandemic.

According to experts, the hardship from the pandemic still persists among Americans today, with inflation rising in many states as a result of the Ukraine war.

And this hardship isn’t just limited to the poor or the vulnerable, but a much larger portion of society.

The COVID-related increase in SNAP benefits ended on the first of March in 32 states. Nearly 40 million are estimated to have been affected by the change.

Many of these are the most vulnerable in society, such as the poor, the elderly and students.

According to the research and policy think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, families will now see nearly $100 less in food assistance every month.

Americans have spoken of the serious problems they are facing as a result of the cuts to food-related assistance.

Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administered the SNAP program, has acknowledged that its benefits had proved “powerful” for recipients.

“That can’t be underscored enough in the difference it’s made in mitigating increases in hunger and addressing economic hardship and poverty,” Dean said. She admitted that the program’s expiration “will be very difficult”.

Food banks, who are already under pressure as public donations decline sharply, are now bracing for another surge in demand.

There are huge question marks if they can handle the extra pressure at this moment in time.

“It seems like the cat eats better than I do sometimes,” SNAP benefits recipient Richard Stover told local media in the city of Memphis, Tennessee “I’m thinking about the other families that could use that extra hundred dollars, especially the ones that have children.”

“We’ve seen an increase over the last couple of years of maybe 10 to 15 percent of people needing SNAP benefits,” said Nicole Willis, Marketing and Communications Manager with a Memphis food bank.

“With SNAP being cut, we will see an increase of people coming to our partner agencies needing food. So, we will see more people coming in,” Willis added.

Analysts have also been warning of potential civil unrest inside the U.S. as food security keeps order in society, as has been witnessed around the world, when prices rise and households are unable to put food on the table: it’s a recipe for civil unrest.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, 33.8 million American households experienced food insecurity last year. However, food charities argue the number is much higher.

Micheal Flood, a CEO for a Los Angeles regional food bank has slammed the move saying “we shouldn’t be cutting programs like SNAP right now. We should be bolstering them and finding ways to improve them so that we can ensure people are not going hungry. So, the policy part is absolutely important.”

Deborah Schulhof, who had been heavily dependent on SNAP has expressed her deep fears saying “to tell you the truth, I am afraid about not having enough to eat. I have three people in my family, so I mean, it helped a lot. I’m just really afraid,” 

Overall grocery prices in the U.S. are up 15% annually, while consumer staples like eggs have skyrocketed by 138%. The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen about 40% since 1980, while the price of unhealthy processed food products has fallen by the same figure.

Low and middle-income families don’t have the financial income necessary to keep up with the price shocks and have been left with choices beyond their hands. Either eat unhealthier food or simply don’t eat at all.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention which is the national public health agency of the United States has reported that more than 40% of U.S. adults and almost 20% of children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese. Currently, six in ten American adults have a chronic medical condition, many of which are related to the food they are eating.

The latest period for which federal data was available in October showed that more than 42.3 million people enlisted with SNAP, participation hadn’t previously surpassed that level since the summer of 2020.

Research by a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank for economic and social policy, the Urban Institute, shows that the enhanced SNAP benefits kept millions of Americans above the poverty line and lowered overall poverty by 10% and child poverty by 14%.

The study also found that the emergency program helped reduce poverty rates most steeply among Black and Latino recipients.

Questions have been raised as to why the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is ending the extra income for the most vulnerable in society when prices at the shops are skyrocketing.

It comes at a time when Washington has been announcing one new military package for the Ukraine war after the other.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, a German research institute, since the conflict began, the Biden administration as well as the U.S. Congress have directed more than $75 billion in funds to Ukraine, which mostly includes military support as well as financial aid.

Critics argue this is money that should have been directed back home to lift the millions of Americans out of poverty and homelessness.

At the same time, there is concern among the American establishment that the U.S.-instigated war is not going ahead as planned.

Criticism by Republicans lawmakers in Congress toward the Biden administration’s funding of the Ukraine crisis is growing louder.

Ukrainian forces are clinging to the eastern city of Bakhmut after months of fighting in the flashpoint city. Experts say it’s only a matter of time before the Russian military captures Bakhmut, which could pave the way for tightening Moscow’s grip of the entire eastern Ukrainian Donbass region.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said he saw only a “small improvement” in diplomacy with Moscow after a Group of 20 meeting in India that saw a very brief and very rare U.S.-Russia talks.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held face to face talks for the first time since the war broke out.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Lavrov and Blinken spoke “on the move” on the sidelines of the summit for less than 10 minutes at the end of the closed-door session, and did not engage in any negotiations.

Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”, accused the West of turning work on the G20 agenda into a “farce” and said Western delegations wanted to shift responsibility for their economic failures onto Moscow.

The West has ramped up sanctions on Russia, which has backfired on consumers back home as inflation rises. 

Moscow now says it no longer sees Europe as an energy partner and will start focusing on energy exports to the East. 

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