Oh SNAP! with Gina Plata-Nino, Jimmy Carter’s Legacy, Beetlejuice… Beetlejuice… Equity!
In this episode, we go full fangirl over the incredible life of former President Jimmy Carter. V also zooms in on how one Broadway production is shaking up a classic story on stages across the U.S. Then, they dive into the big changes slated to hit the SNAP food assistance program on March 1. And to explore all the ways this program helps our communities, V brings on Gina Plata-Nino, the deputy director of SNAP for the Food Research and Action Center. Gina debunks the “welfare queen” stereotype, explains why we should have more compassion for people who are food insecure, and lays out what can be done to help protect SNAP benefits ahead of reauthorizing the 2023 farm bill.
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V Spehar, Gina Plata-Nino
V Spehar 00:00
Hey friends, it’s Friday, February 24, 2023. Welcome to V INTERESTING, where we break down the viral and very interesting news you might have missed. I’m V Spehar. And today, Hail to the Chief, we’re going to talk about the life of President Jimmy Carter, a peanut farmer turned President turned homemaker. Then we’ll take a look at the Broadway casting practices and how equity equals applause. And then we’re gonna learn about SNAP, a century long supplemental nutrition program that ensures folks in the most wealthy nation in the world don’t starve, and how the government is about to get cheap with those benefits. Come March 1st. All that more on today’s be interesting from Lemonada media. Let’s be smart together. Hello, friends, by now, you’ve probably heard that President Jimmy Carter has entered at home hospice care. At time of this recording, at least he was in hospice care. And it got me thinking about the presidency and what it means and what we expect of our presidents once they leave office. Carter is beloved because a lot of people feel like he did it the right way. He quietly resigned from power the way that George Washington intended, as written in his farewell address, quote, everyone shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid. And for the most part, Jimmy got to do that. So I mean, we can surely criticize the choices he made in the office, some of the failures and trials and tribulations of his years in elected office. But I don’t know, I’m feeling a little generous today, maybe even a little patriotic. So here are some of the really cool things that former President Carter did that just might get you singing the Star Spangled Banner, or Hail to the Chief? First, the man was, in fact a peanut farmer. But he was also a former Georgia State Senator and the former governor of Georgia. He joined the Navy in 1946. And he was a submariner, yes, President Carter was a sardine. While in the Navy, he led a team of men on a mission to save Ottawa from a nuclear meltdown. He volunteered to be part of a team that was lowered into a reactor to take it apart and replace it. I mean, this kind of thing would never fly now, and he did report having radioactive urine for weeks after the event. In 1971, he was elected governor of Georgia, and one of the first things he did as part of a prisoner trustee program was to hire an inmate named Mary Prince to be his daughter’s nanny. Mary had been convicted of murder, but Carter was so sure of her innocence. That just a few years later, when he was elected president, he asked to be named her parole officer and made arrangements for Mary to get all the security clearance required to move into the White House and continue to care for his daughter. Mary was later given a full pardon when it was proven that she was wrongfully convicted. In 1976, he won the popular and electoral college vote, beating Gerald Ford for the presidency. And on his second day in office, he broadly pardoned all of the Vietnam draft dodgers. He supported the civil rights movement, he opposed racial segregation. He established the Department of Energy and even put solar panels on the White House, and his administration established the Department of Education. He gave the Panama Canal back to Panama, he got real close to peace in the Middle East, and he signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which created most of the national park lands and Alaska. He even tried to create universal health care, but one of the less cool Kennedy brothers messed that whole thing up. Upon leaving office, he established the Carter Center, which advocates worldwide for humanitarian causes. In 1999, Jimmy Carter was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. And in 2002, the Carter Center went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He also became a key figure at Habitat for Humanity, where he helped build houses until like, honestly, a couple of weeks ago, he was out there. Jimmy Carter, the only president to be sworn in using a nickname, Jimmy. And there’s 100 more cool things that he did. He delivered the eulogy for Coretta Scott King and his former rival president, Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter is a lot of folks favorite president. But who was Carter’s favorite? Well, that’s Harry Truman. And why? Because Harry Truman didn’t try to profit off the presidency. There’s so many things I could say about Jimmy and his wishes for America. But I think that perhaps just playing a clip from his inaugural address is much better. As these words ring as true today as they did then.
V Spehar 05:05
Oh my gosh, now I am crying. I’m not even joking. We had to take a whole break because I was like weeping. I am such a baby. A broadway baby that is I you guys know, I love musicals. And I think it is just the most entertaining way to learn about the past and a more gentle way to take a look at society. And just about anything can be musicalized maybe we’ll get a Jimmy Carter musical someday. I don’t know they made it work for other historic figures like Alexander Hamilton, the founding fathers in 1776. Henry the eighth’s wives in the musical six. We’ve got a musical about Andrew Jackson, so on and so on and so on. Musicals are a cool way to make something feel fresh and bring stories to new audiences. And I mean, think about it. When characters sing their feelings instead of just speaking their lines. That’s a pretty big change to how we receive the information being presented. Broadway also tends to lead the entertainment industry when it comes to diversity and adaptation. Look at what they did with Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, Shrek and even Rocky, iconic movies turned musicals except you got to add songs and include more people of color. And that has happened again with the tour of Beetlejuice the musical. Now the movie Beetlejuice came out in 1988. It was directed by Tim Burton. You know that guy who made the Nightmare Before Christmas Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, aka movies where everyone is either dead or white or both, and they often also star Johnny Depp. Now unlike in the movies, in the first national Broadway tour of Beetlejuice, the musical, several black performers have been cast in lead roles that were originally written as stereotypically white characters, because in 2023, we don’t let a little thing like the outdated practice of race based screenwriting, keep us from innovating, which is why the tour director has gotten creative in updating the casting standards for a modern audience. Now, I saw the show this past Saturday night and I’m telling you it works. Here is one good example of how they’re doing it. Now in the movie, and in the original Broadway cast Barbara and Adam Maitland the couple who die in the house Beetlejuice is trying to haunt were cast to be quote painfully suburban and white. So in the song fright of their life. Beetlejuice is teaching Adam and Barbara how to scare the living and lyrics go something like both of you are super polite, middle class, suburban and white. Well, all of that is finished tonight, except for the White part, obviously. Okay, so you can see how those lyrics significantly limit the casting to White performers. And these are made up people they should be able to be played by anyone. Right. So on tour, the lyrics have been updated to go. Both of you are dead in the dirt. But next you’re going to be bringing the hurt. So Adam, take off your shirt. Hey, it was worth a try a tiny adjustment. You would not even notice it if I didn’t tell you. And the casting is now wide open to performers of all races to play the two iconic lead roles and one of the hottest musicals on tour. And I’m telling you, I loved Gina Davis as Barbara but once you see Britney Coleman play the role, it’s hard to remember the character any other way. Double Fun fact, this is an Britney’s first time reimagining a traditionally White cast role. Prior to playing Barbara Britney Coleman was playing Bobby in the revival of the Stephen Sondheim classic musical company. That production not only changed the race of the original casting, but also the gender from White male body to Black female body, and folks loved it and won a ton of Tony awards including the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical. Okay, but back to Beetlejuice. While Sondheim and Broadway have grown with the times Tim Burton’s lack of representation in his movies goes back decades and show no sign of becoming more inclusive. Burton has brushed off criticism in the past by essentially saying that his stories don’t call for diversity, which is why there isn’t much in fact, the only times he’s cast Black actors is as villains or antagonists. Think about it. You’ve got Mr. Ogee. Boogie and The Nightmare Before For Christmas, Mr. Baron, the evil Shapeshifter and Miss Peregrine is Home for Peculiar Children. And that was it until he cast three Black actors as bullies and the corrupt mayor in the Netflix series Wednesday. Timmy B may want to take a more critical look at his aesthetic because this iteration of Beetlejuice is doing great. Audiences are excited to see characters like Barbara and Lydia Dietz, and even the Girl Scout be more equitably cast. It’s probably not the best move to just keep casting Johnny Depp either. Just some things to think about Tim.
V Spehar 10:35
Speaking of spooky, earlier this week, a congressperson from Georgia proposed an idea that would affect literally everyone in the entire world. On Monday, Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted the following quote, we need a national divorce, we need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government. Everyone I talked to says this. I swear this woman’s got to find better friends. Okay. Listen, let me get this straight. Marjorie, the United States should be broken up like a checkerboard. And by everyone you talk to are you imagining that every Democrat who currently lives in a red state would have to move and vice versa? And people would support that? Who would enforce that? And if they didn’t leave with their votes still be counted? Would they be barred from running for office? And that’s just the problem for residents. Okay. In this scenario, blue states would control most of the coastlines. How are the red states supposed to ship and trade? When you give up New Jersey, New York and California? Heck, forget the whole state. If you were to lose the city of Baltimore, or LA, you’re given up some of the biggest shipping ports, the Port of Los Angeles handles 20% of incoming cargo for the whole United States. You want to give that up in the divorce? Not to mention banking my guy? Do red states have some sort of central banking system that we don’t know about, no? Well, they better figure one out then. No worries should be very simple, right? It only took the Founding Fathers decades to work out theirs. In fact, it took so long to work out the central banking system that the main architect of the system died before it was finalized. Yes, we’re back to musicals, Alexander Hamilton. Plus, who would other countries do diplomacy with? And would red states opt out of the billions of dollars in federal aid they currently receive from blue states? What about the federal military bases in the national parks are gonna forfeit all the federal employees who currently work in their states that have no mail service? Like I could go on and on but to put it gently, Marjorie, this is a mess. And this is a terrible idea. This is a treasonous idea. And I don’t think y’all are prepared for that. You guys couldn’t even hold the vote on speaker you want to start a new country, LOL. Thankfully, in this imaginary divorce secession scenario, she’s cooked up, there is truly no support. There is no path to this happening. Because the infrastructure of our society would be destroyed, nothing would work, especially top down government support and safety net programs, which these so called red states rely on. That said, we’re about to get a taste of what it’s like when the government does pull support, because in less than a week, COVID era provisions are ending for SNAP. SNAP stands for supplemental nutrition assistance program, it’s what you might think of as food stamps. But in this day and age, it’s a debit card that gets a balance loaded onto it every month. It’s not a lot of money. And the kinds of things you can buy are extremely limited. You can’t buy hot food, even from the grocery store. So no rotisserie chicken or prepared items. You can’t go to restaurants and you can’t buy alcohol. You can’t even buy vitamins or hand soap or paper products like napkins and plates. Before the pandemic average monthly SNAP benefits were between two and $300 a person then COVID hit, and the government was like oh shit, our country is like in a really bad state right now. And we need to expand the support we’re giving folks so they raised the monthly payouts. Households got a minimum of 95 extra dollars a month and some got a little more. Now, snap is about to lose that boost. Congress just passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which will end COVID era SNAP supplements on March 1. Now 100 bucks a month might not seem like a lot of money, but it is a lot of money. For lots of people, this bonus provision has made up a third of their grocery budget for the last three years. And while COVID is over. Recovery for most people isn’t especially with inflation and wage stagnation. Try swimming with arm floaties and a pool noodle for a few hours and then just having that pool noodle suddenly taken away. That is a loss you’re gonna definitely feel right? SNAP is especially important in rural areas. You might think that places with more farmland would have more food and everything else they need but that’s just not how it works. Rural areas actually have higher rates of poverty and food insecurity than metro areas. And on average, the percentage of a community that’s on SNAP is higher in rural areas than it is in metro areas. So at the very least, friends, make sure your people know that this is happening. These changes are coming in less than a week, at least in the dozens of states that haven’t already opted to end their emergency provisions. Payments per person will now max out at $281 a month. One way you can help is to tell your congressperson to not make any further cuts to snap. Because snap is also on the chopping block in negotiations about lowering the federal debt deficit. Republicans in particular are recommending work requirements for recipients as well as giving lower payouts overall. But in case you’re not convinced yet, I have a very special guest here today who’s going to tell you even more about the power of SNAP, Gina Plata-Nino is an expert on SNAP and food security and we will have more with her after the break.
V Spehar 16:18
Welcome back friends, we are here with Gina Plata-Nino, who serves as the Deputy Director for snap at the Food Research Action Center. Gina, you’ve been in the food security world for a long time, and you’ve really put your heart into strengthening snap access across the United States. Thank you for being here with us today.
Gina Plata-Nino 16:36
Thank you for having me.
V Spehar 16:37
So some people are fortunate enough that they never experienced poverty related hunger, but everyone experiences some form of hunger. I mean, listeners at this exact moment may be feeling a little hungry. And it’s not really that different. It’s just for folks who experience chronic hunger, that distracting kind of grating paying that you might be feeling right now that anxiety you get when you haven’t eaten, the anger even when you haven’t eaten, it just lasts way longer and causes way bigger problems. So tell me, how would you define chronic hunger? And what impact does it have on a person’s ability to thrive?
Gina Plata-Nino 17:13
So the US Department of Agriculture defines, you know, chronic hunger and food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active healthy life. And I think that’s the key word, right? Because most people are surviving and not necessarily living and how does it impact us? It has a direct correlation between the social determinants of health right? Is the reason why people go to the ER, right, because they’re taking medication on an empty stomach is the reason why individuals are more likely to get sick, or their immune systems are more compromised, because they’re not getting access to accessible, nutritious and sufficient food.
V Spehar 17:52
Yeah, because like when the average person thinks about hungry and I used to be this way as well, I’d be like, okay, hunger, that means this person doesn’t have anything to eat at all. But that’s, that’s just not true. It could also mean that they don’t have the right food, or enough food, or they’re just unsure where their next meal is going to come from. Or they might even be sure that they’re going to come across something to eat with odds and ends, but it’s not, it’s not going to be enough to truly like nurture their body in a way that they’re going to be able to thrive like you said and be successful. So there’s been a little bit of back and forth too on the definition of food insecurity. What is food insecurity?
Gina Plata-Nino 18:27
Well, it’s similar, right? Do they have consistent access, and that was the point I was gonna make, oh, I skipped lunch, I’m hungry. Versus I consistently have to skip dinner and breakfast. Because for example, if I’m a child, the only meal I get a day is the school meal I get at school. So that is the consistent access to enough food for individuals.
V Spehar 18:50
About how many people does food insecurity affect?
Gina Plata-Nino 18:53
According to some research of Feeding America more than 34 million people, which includes 9 million children who experienced food insecurity in the United States.
V Spehar 19:02
9 million children?
Gina Plata-Nino 19:03
Yes. So just think about that. Like when you asked me what’s like the impact, these are children who are having a difficult time paying attention in school, and people are saying, Oh, it’s you know, they have issues. They’re now listening. Well, they’re hungry. It’s difficult as an adult to be able to concentrate to be able to do your homework, but as a towel, it just it’s even more compounded. So if you’re not doing well in school, you’re not going to be able to graduate, right? And it just says it’s such a terrible cycle. Because these kiddos are more likely to end up in detention, they’re more likely to have issues are more likely to get sick. And so there’s it’s not just like, oh, they didn’t have a meal. It has such a long time impact.
V Spehar 19:42
And I know back when I was doing food security work when somebody would say like, oh, it affects 9 million children. I was like that’s an inconceivable number to me. Do we know like one and how many kids does that affect?
Gina Plata-Nino 19:54
So last month, 1 in 7 people reported their households sometimes or often did not have enough to eat during the prior week, an increase from December, which was 1 in 9.
V Spehar 20:03
Yeah. And when we’re talking about 9 million kids, we’re not talking about like little children, either, I think, yeah, I really want the audience to get a good picture of what we mean when we say children, we mean eighth graders, we mean ninth grade boys who maybe weigh 200 pounds themselves aren’t getting enough food to continue to grow and thrive and participate in sports, or any number of these things. And all of that kind of ramps up to this idea of community health, and what kind of things can be happening in an area that has poor community health?
Gina Plata-Nino 20:35
And usually, when you see poor community health is historically, regions that have lack of access to because of redlining, poor community health also means that they live in really terrible apartments that haven’t been renovated in many years that also cost them like many illnesses. And just the lack of resources, right? That means that they are more nonprofit agencies that are trying to meet a need, where it just as much as they can work towards this issue that they are unable to do. So. It just means a lot more issues around kids and discipline issues. It’s not necessarily that they have discipline issues, that people are hungry, you have more parents working two to three jobs, so that they can be engaged and working with their kids. You have people again, surviving versus thriving,
V Spehar 21:22
right, I remember, back again, when I was doing the food work with FRAC, somebody there had said something like they don’t call it hangry for nothing, there is like a mental connection to hunger. And it does cause you to be more irritable, to be more upset to be more short tempered, to have higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of stress, the cortisol coming through your body, it affects your heart health, all kinds of terrible things. And that’s why the last step in this process oftentimes, is chronic illness. And that may be the first time when somebody has proven how sick they are, and how hungry are they are, that they finally get some help. But not a lot, not a lot of help comes once you achieve chronic illness through, you know, poor nutrition and hunger. But there is this one piece of legislation that is the shining star in this desperate situation that we’re facing with hunger. And that is the Farm Bill. And so all this conversation up to this point has been ramping towards giving you guys the idea of like the situation that we’re in setting the table, if you will, to talk about the farm bill, it is a huge, tremendously important piece of legislation that is responsible for getting food on our tables. So Gina, just start by telling us just how the Farm Bill reduces hunger?
Gina Plata-Nino 22:39
Yes. And thank you for setting up why this is important. Because a lot of people think what does the farm bill have to do with food security. It reduces hunger, because there’s a particular information, their resources, which is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that is part of this farm bill, that helps address some of the food insecurity issues that we are talking about, right? It’s a program that is allow for low income individuals, where they can get some funds every month to be able to purchase the meals that they need. It’s supposed to be supplemental, but many individuals are you and I just talked about, who suffer from chronic hunger and food insecurity utilize this as their sole means of nutrition.
V Spehar 23:20
And it’s very restricted. I mean, we have this horrible leftover thing from the 80s of the idea of like the welfare queen who’s buying like lobster and steak with her with her snap dollars and her food stamps. And it’s like that is just not true at all. And even if she was buying lobster and steak with our food stamps, like good for you, lady, that’s great. Those are good quality, high nutritional density foods, they should be included. But talk to me a little bit just about the restrictions of the SNAP program?
Gina Plata-Nino 23:47
Yeah, and I just I appreciate you saying that because there’s such a judgment on low income individuals were like, How dare you eat that? But we’re gonna you eat that as well. Like, what’s the difference? Like if I go in buy a burger, no one’s gonna say how dare you eat that. But somehow a low income individual buys it, and we’re judging them. So I appreciate that. Because America has a really bad history of treating low income people like it’s a crime, like if they have intentionally done something, and it doesn’t work like that. So I appreciate you saying that. So snap works. You know, it used to be called food stamps. So it’s you can buy foods and vegetables and pretty much just think food but nothing hot. So just food right? So you can go into a grocery store that participates in the Electronic Benefit process, right? So it’s EBT card, and store agency can scan it right? It works like a credit card like a debit card. And the restrictions are is there’s a very limited amount of money. I would say that’s number one, right? It comes out to about $6 a day, but most people are not getting the maximum benefit amount. And it comes out to again, you can only buy cool items. So my background is a legal services attorney and I used to have a work with a lot of older adults. And they’re like, you know Oh, ideally, I want to be able to bite the hot meals that are there. But I can’t because my snap doesn’t know about me. So those like SNAP food like those hot foods doesn’t work. Everything has to be again, just think of groceries, just not hot prepare meals that are already part of the grocery, kind of like the rotisserie chicken that you see. Like, you know, think of a hard working mom, no, you got to buy that chicken raw, you gotta cook it, or unless they take their rotisserie chicken, put it in the refrigerator, and the mom has to warm it up, then it’s allowable. Again, just food I know a lot of people think like, oh, I can buy baby formula. Can I buy feminine hygiene products? No, it’s specifically for food. And I do want to say that it’s for a reason. Because it’s so limited. That you know, it’s not enough even to cover what people need for nutrition and food items.
V Spehar 25:49
That rotisserie chicken not being on the list thing pisses me off so bad when I first heard about this, because I was like sometimes the rotisserie chicken when you think about how much food that is food density wise, right, and like the value of that and it being like a hot meal, it being a tasty meal. And it being ready to go. Like you said, a lot of folks, you have to be working to be on SNAP. So we’ve got jobs, we’ve got things to do, we’ve got kids or elderly people to take care of, or their elderly people on it, who don’t have the dexterity to chop anymore to carry a pan into the oven. There’s just physical and time constraints. And when I heard that they couldn’t get the rotisserie chicken. I was like for $5. Think of how many meals that is for a person like that’s an incredible value, and we can’t do it. And it comes back to this false idea that the taxpayer is paying for poor lazy people’s groceries. So now all these folks jump in legislation and start to put judgment calls and morality and egregious rules on what people can eat. And it’s just awful
Gina Plata-Nino 26:49
100% agree. And because there’s a consumption that you’re an individual that are staying at home, and if you have children, then you can cook for your children and be home all day. And now you’re cooking from scratch, and that you have that food widely available. So it’s just a matter of walking and catching those vegetables or you know, the meat part, whatever you’re going to make. And it doesn’t take into account that that’s not, 2023 doesn’t look like that, like the US hasn’t looked like that for many years, right? People are working two to three jobs to be able to pay for rent. People want to go home and help their kiddos with homework but they can’t because right I can pick up there with history chicken, I have to go home, I cook that chicken from scratch. So it doesn’t take into account the amount of time that it takes to cook food, the amount of time that it takes to get access to food, right. We know, in some rural areas, it takes individuals an hour to an hour and a half to go and find a grocery store. And so those are some of the additional restrictions that people are not thinking about that people plan very closely on like full time, you know, when you’re a person of privilege, I know for me, for example, I haven’t been to a grocery store in like two years because I put everything on Instacart there are individuals who have specifically follow you know, when can I go to the grocery store? When can I get transportation, right? Quote, a neighbor, can I get a bus, and it’s just really expensive to get this food. And that’s something that it doesn’t take into account, especially when people are not getting a lot of money. It’s it has increased but to 81. Just think about how can you survive on $281 for a month.
V Spehar 28:21
$281 total for all of your food budget, right?
Gina Plata-Nino 28:25
Yes, that’s your food budget. And again, the concept was that this is supplemental is a supplemental nutrition assistance program. But it’s not supplemental for many individuals. This is a like, you know, you’re paying 80 to 90% of your income on rent, and on car insurance and child care, right, like on so many things. And the last thing is I least I have to SNAP benefits, and then they can help me, but they’re not enough. So our low income individuals are like budgeters, they can budget, they look for deals. But that’s also very time consuming, you know, to have to look for the best deal.
V Spehar 28:58
And going back to this regulation on the hot food, you also have to assume that that person has access to an oven. And this is not something that everybody has I know that most folks listening are thinking what kind of house what kind of apartment doesn’t have an oven shelters don’t folks who are living in their car, don’t folks who are living in an RV sometimes or some other non-traditional housing structure don’t. And so what do you do then? Right? What if you can’t pay your light bill and your electric bill. So now you can’t cook your food either you can’t keep your food cold. There are issues that goes so far beyond just the average person’s understanding of what it means to get in prepare food. And we just have to have more compassion for that. So these are some of the things that I’m glad we’re able to talk about so that folks can be aware of it because I know when I found out about it, I was like, I’m lucky enough that it never occurred to me that that would be an obstacle for somebody already going through a hard time.
Gina Plata-Nino 29:53
Yeah. And that’s the thing like you said, there’s misconceptions on who’s utilizing these programs and why They’re utilizing it, I have yet to meet a participant to say like, Oh, I’m so excited to sign up. And they can’t say that because even though this program is there to help individuals, there has been such stigma, particularly within communities of color, that they don’t want to access it. You know, like I said, in my in my previous role as a legal services attorney, I will have to convince people, like, oh, you have nothing. You just lost your housing, like, you know, because of a disaster, can we please sign you into SNAP? Like, no, I can’t like I just can’t deal with the stigma.
V Spehar 30:30
I know, it’s gonna be shocked to people. But can you tell folks who the number one benefactor of SNAP is?
Gina Plata-Nino 30:36
Our White population.
V Spehar 30:37
It’s white women with children, right?
Gina Plata-Nino 30:39
Yes, but that’s not what we see on the news. And I’ll put it out there, because I saw it a lot during the previous administration, you know, and 92% of SNAP recipients are you as born citizens. The rest of the percent are naturalized. Right? So there’s very few immigrants if you know, the percentage is very small, and, and they’re legal permanent residents, right. They’ve been here for over five years. So there’s some exemptions. So I think it’s important to cover that because, you know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there on who’s accessing benefits. And that goes towards the stigma and why people may not be accessing it.
V Spehar 31:27
Now, why is snap nestled in the Farm Bill, you would think that this would be a policy or legislation that affects the Health and Human Services Department, but it’s up there in the Farm Bill? Well, how did that come about?
Gina Plata-Nino 31:40
Think about the 1930s. And while we were going through it, for those of you who don’t follow history is we’re going through the Great Depression, right? President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was trying to figure out how do we work with getting food on the table, keep food prices fair for farmers, consumers and ensure adequate food supply? So it came out of that the SNAP program is not what it is today, you know, it has developed and throughout the years, and some good and positive and in some negative ways. But the main thing was that this was going to be this package this this farm bill that was going to respond to the economic and environmental crisis of the Great Depression and the decimal. But the primary goals are the same, right? To figure out how do they support the food, the farming system. And how do we support again, the one that we are really interested in our SNAP program, which is like one of the most effective ways to help eliminate poverty and to help address the chronic hunger that you were talking about.
V Spehar 32:35
I’m just going to tell the listeners now I’ve applied for snap in the past in my life and growing up, we didn’t grow up with a whole ton of money. So you know, there are these programs are there because people need them. And even if you haven’t experienced systemic poverty, there may come a time in your life where you’re like, whoa, this program was actually very important, because when you want it to be there, you need it to be there. So if you don’t need it right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever need it. Going through the snap application process was for me, when I did it at that resource center in Baltimore. It was just chilling. Honestly, I was so overwhelmed by the other people who were applying, I had a lot of like impostor syndrome, even though I was in a bad situation where I needed the service. Because you’re looking around and you’re like, Oh my God, I don’t have any kids. I’m like a single white woman, like I should be able to get my shit together. Like why am I even here and my taking away from somebody else? Are they going to think I’m lying? The application was incredibly difficult. And I remember thinking like, Man, I went to college, and I and I’m having a hard time filling this out and still had to go up to the desk like twice to ask the lady about like, what boxes I was supposed to be checking. And so if you’re listening, and you’re in a place where you’re like, you know what I, I didn’t really know about this program before, or I have some level of embarrassment about applying for it. Let me tell you about what happened after I qualified for my $16 a week and step benefits. One, it does help you it puts in your mind, I have $16 of buying power, and I can go to the store. And I can start to think about taking care of myself that I was also exposed to other services that were going to be available to you there was job training there was trying to connect you with housing resources, trying to connect you with bus maps, things that seem like they should be easy to find or access but just aren’t, especially when poverty or a bad situation comes on you all of a sudden, and you hadn’t prepared for this. So if you’re listening and you’re like, should I apply for SNAP? The answer is yes. And if you’re also asking yourself, should I use a food bank? The answer is also yes. Can you tell folks about food banks, they’re pretty well in every city, and most rural areas also have some form of a food bank who gets to use the food bank.
Gina Plata-Nino 34:54
So that’s the thing about food banks. If you live in the area, I’m in independence because I’m a very open If anyone can use them, right? They do have some limits depending on resources, because again, food costs money, right? This is coming from a state, they do get some money from the federal government as well. But they bring these monies to different food pantries. And depending on the, you know, the resources on the food pantry, some are going to have more fresh fruits and vegetables. Now we’re going to have more resources, because that’s the key word. How much does the state have? How much does the municipality have, how much donations it has, but I will say this, and I’m so glad you brought this up, that for every meal that these superheroes give out, SNAP is nine. And so it’s just like, there’s no comparison. And I’m really concerned because you know, we’re facing a hunger cliff. And these food pantries who are already at capacity, because it’s been nonstop since the pandemic, right, like they haven’t gotten a break. I know people think like COVID, sended. But there’s still a lot of consequences, a lot of low income individuals are still feeling it. And the food pantries haven’t stopped. And I also appreciate you talking about the application system and the website that I describe it to people as I bought two houses, and I got pre-approved, right, in less than 60 seconds, a snap application takes on average 10 to 20 minutes to complete it. And it’s lengthy. And you know, I work with my records to where lawyers, and even the lawyers are like, this is so complicated. We make it so complicated on purpose. So that individuals would just need a helping hand so that they can get to the next step and can have access to these resources.
V Spehar 36:29
Yeah, when I came out of my food insecurity stint, which lucky for me did not last long. But I was glad those resources were there when it was happening. I ended up being like very dedicated to try to make sure other people didn’t feel this way. And we used to literally go to these residential places in Baltimore, where elderly folks live, and go door to door and try to fill out the application with them. What are we going to do with people who are 89 years old and are on snapped? Because they can’t work? How are they supposed to get to the grocery store, when they don’t want to do online transactions, they don’t want to allow you to use delivery services. These folks are not well, and they have served society through their whole life. And now they need a little help on the on the end of life kind of situation. And we have to remember them too.
Gina Plata-Nino 37:16
Thank you for saying that, because the majority, you know, we mentioned that demographics and race, you know, the white population is the biggest user. But also you know, who’s using the SNAP benefits in terms of age older adults and children. So either we’re going to say you need to go back to work at the age of 90. And by the way, many people are working at that age because they need to make ends meet, right? Like, it’s not enough, right, Social Security is not enough. And then you have children. So unless we’re going to abolish, you know, the protections that are there for a reason for children, those are the key demographics that were hurting, those are the key people who are utilizing SNAP.
V Spehar 37:53
And when I was doing school kid programs, one of the things that I noticed so much about the kids who had free and reduced lunch are the kids that we were working with their parents, through the snap culinary programs, was the way that children have so little power, and are constantly put forth as the pawn for why we should or shouldn’t do something. But when you’re a kid experiencing food insecurity, and you’re sitting at that lunch table, one of the Personal Missions of mine to overcome for these kids was lunchtime, because you sit down at that lunch table, and it begins your first social status experience, right? The first form of currency that children have is their lunch and is directly tied to their food security. This comes down to it, children at a lunch table, who are developing their sense of self, their sense of security, there are understanding what food means in the world of who has things and who doesn’t have things. I’ve seen eighth graders who were hungry because they were the oldest kid in their family. And they were like, well, I want to make sure that my little brother in kindergarten has enough to eat because otherwise he cries. Like this program, I’m telling you, it is the single most important socio economic program that we have. And we have to protect it. So Jenna, we passed this farm bill in 2018, where the Democrats were able to protect snap, they were able to, you know, kind of like, do as much harm reduction as possible. And now we have the opportunity to pass a new farm bill in 2023. But the thing that happened in between the 2018 Farm Bill, the 2023 bill that’s coming up is COVID. And if there was a silver lining a good thing about COVID There was nothing good about COVID Except for the fact that for a brief moment, we had compassion for people. And we understood that there wasn’t a way to work and that we needed to get food to folks and they were allowing delivery to happen and they were increasing the amount of money that each individual person had to buy food with. And that was part of the Cares Act, right. That was a Trump thing. He was the one who started that
Gina Plata-Nino 39:59
And it worked. Right? And so here we are President Biden came in and kept reauthorizing it. So to include it individuals and part of those is, remember that at the beginning of the pandemic, we told folks stay home from the providers, less jobs. So it allowed those older, you know, those adults without dependents, right, who are 18, to 49. To be able to access snap to make it more accessible for older adults, hey, we’re gonna give you the maximum for that working mom who lost her job, because we know I am going to use the gender because it did affect majority women with children who lost their jobs who had to come out of the workforce. Now I have to go on to snap but it allow them to have a budget to be able to feed their kids. So we saw that in terms of like, poverty reduction, in terms of increasing health outcomes. This has worked. And so we have an opportunity in the Farm Bill, to think about increasing SNAP benefits to get to a point where it’s adequate, because I would love to hear how people can budget and eat for $281 a month because especially if your kids and their boys.
V Spehar 41:04
I know right. And the thing that like is so mind boggling to me about the cares money is the fact that they knew what that number was right? Do you know like they knew that 281 was going to be a number that was going to help more people in a more sustainable way that that was going to help folks not get sick, help folks not be in danger, you knew what the number was, and then you gave the money out, because if you did it, then you kind of always could have we could have always chose to be that compassionate, and that realistic when it comes to like what people actually need to thrive. And all of that, unfortunately, was wrapped up under a national public health emergency. That’s what gave the government the ability to kind of like bypass Congress in some ways, and start taking care of the people the way that they always should be. And now that National Public Health Emergency is ending, even though we have just gone through a mass disabling event with people who got long COVID, and who now are in a rough situation, a mass layoff event where people were losing their jobs or losing their homes, all this kind of stuff, just because the public health mandate is closing. It means all of that kind of like compassionate care is also closing. And that is just so unfortunate.
Gina Plata-Nino 42:14
Thank you for saying that. Because it really is. So we’re actually divided into two, you know, publicans took over. And one of the things they came after was the emergency allotments, right, it was supposed to be touched to the public health emergency, they cut it down. So starting March 1, less money. So think about for example, I’ll use a couple of states that I know off the top of my head, Massachusetts, the state I live in, you know, they were getting overnight $96 million extra month to help. Now they’re not getting it. Right. So that’s his last money again, stay has to figure it out, city has to figure it out. Food banks are going to have to, I don’t know, they’ve already been stepping up. I don’t know what you call someone to say step up even more than you’re already doing. I don’t know.
V Spehar 42:52
It’s difficult, because when people say, Well, $96 million. And now it’s not going to go to that person, the Benefactor the snap benefactor, it’s also not going to the farmer, this money had to be spent to the community. It’s not going to the truck drivers, it’s not going to the grocery stores, it’s not going to the clerk. It’s not just oh, we’re gonna save $96 million. Because we’re not giving all these hypothetical freeloaders money to buy food anymore. It’s no, you are taking money, and food out of the mouths of working people and out of people who need it the most, because it’s not just the Benefactor that benefited it was the whole street community.
Gina Plata-Nino 43:25
And on top of that, right, so we have that. And then it Come May 11, with the public health emergency and the special populations who are being helped, because there’s so many restrictions, which is I keep mentioning these able bodied adults without dependents, they’re gonna go back to the work requirement in June, right. And then you talk about college students that there were some exemptions to make it a lot more flexible for college students to be able to apply, they are going to go back to the regular requirements. So again, we have these special populations who need assistance. Overall, they’re all being affected by these snap cuts. And so we’re hoping that raise awareness about this impact and raise it because we have an opportunity in the Farm Bill to say look, my health improve my city’s economy improved when we were getting these additional benefits. This is why we need a strong Farm Bill. And you and I talked about the rotisserie chicken is there a reason? Why can you know the mom and the grandma be able to buy rotisserie chicken you know, it’s just such a simple fix, right like so those types of things. But the main thing, keep our snap plan strong. Expand it and think about what we learn. We learned a lot during COVID the Child Tax Credit reduce poverty up to almost 40% across wide right and that showed that what that when people have money to be able to purchase things for themselves. It goes in straight to the impact that we’re trying to achieve.
V Spehar 44:57
People hate poor people in this country. They hate me People who like, I don’t know, I used to hear all the time when I did this work like, well, they need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. And like, what if you don’t have boots? Sometimes you had boots, and now you don’t have boots anymore. You might not have boots in the future, like, what do you mean bootstraps? What is this? This is, again, one of the wealthiest countries in the world basic quality of living. That’s all we’re asking for here. So other than the snap stuff, what else is included in the farm bill that maybe people can be thinking about? Folks are very concerned with agriculture right now.
Gina Plata-Nino 45:30
So they are about 12 titles, the one we care about is number four, I told you nutrition. The other one is, you know, price, and one of them is the I don’t want to get too much in the weeds, but commodities, right, covers the price and income for the farmers who raise our produce, right, which is very important, because we need to make sure we have all of these right. It also includes dairy and sugar. And it also includes some agricultural disaster assistance, which is more common now with global warming. So it includes that includes conservation, right? Again, sometimes people wonder, like, my food, it’s expensive, or why it’s happening. So all of these things are part of that conversation of the grants that are going to be issue. So the conversation title helps farmers and promote natural resources and working on lines and pasture. So it’s very farmer heavy. Title Three also covers food exports, and international food aid programs. And then, you know, one of the other titles was very important is the credit title, which covers federal loan programs that are designed to assist farmers access financial credit, right? Because it’s a risky business being a farmer service, good business. And I just want to say that I know sometimes we think of like these large scale farmers, but farmers are also food insecure. And they’re also some of them utilizing snap, right, like so it’s just, we have this picture of what the farmer looks like, but not all of them have this amount of resources. And it’s an extremely hard work. So I just say that.
V Spehar 46:57
Yeah, when we picture the farmer, we’re picturing like, I don’t know, a cowboy and a field with like a rag in the back pocket of the wranglers like real sturdy guy on a John Deere tractor. That ain’t it. That ain’t it. Guys, that is not what it looks like farmers today look like women, a lot of women farmers, homesteaders, small farmers, folks who are forced to raise food that they sell that can’t be eaten. Farmers also include people who raise crops for animals and for products like it’s not just your local farmer with his cute tomato plant out there. Farming is an incredibly difficult business, it has become even more difficult since the 30s. The rate of farmer suicide is a major topic. And these are the things that you’re not going to hear politicians talking about the farmers, the people who are at your local farmers market, oftentimes you’re buying from sometimes are selling you food that they themselves need to eat, but they can’t because it’s a choice, right? I have to sell what I’ve grown. And then that means I have to cut back what’s on my plate. That is not how this is supposed to work. And then no matter how much work they do, they still know at the end of the night, you’re coming up short, people are going to bed hungry. And the pressure on farmers is outrageous from a society perspective. Because just like with the veterans, we put them on this pedestal and we say you’re perfect. We love you, we love you. And then we give them nothing we give them nothing to support them with truly, except for you hear well, the farmers got big subsidies. And it’s like, did they? Did the farmers get a big subsidy, the people who are growing your food? So these are some things that we could maybe fix with the upcoming farm bill a little bit?
Gina Plata-Nino 48:35
I would say that equity, because again, not all farmers have those resources, right? Like because a lot of these programs you have to apply. So just sort of thing. I thank you for saying that. Because you know, a farmer’s day starts at like three o’clock in the morning. So you’re saying that you have to apply for these programs, like, I’m going to.
V Spehar 48:52
Exactly, it’s online.
Gina Plata-Nino 48:55
So no one’s going to, you know, the farmer, you know, and saying like, I want to help you. Let me give you this grant right now, like you have to apply, right? And then this also like, who do you know, what sort of connections? And how do you know this process? Remember that all of this, there’s just so much red tape. So just because those resources are out there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re easily accessible. So I think equity needs to be a big part of the Farm Bill. Because when you think of like the local farmers that are producing our food, they’re not necessarily getting the resources that they need, even though it may be out there. It’s just actually getting it. And I think one of the things that’s important to know what’s not part of the Farm Bill, because I didn’t mention that is that farm and food worker rights and protections are not part of the Farm Bill. And that’s a big issue because people wonder why their food prices increase, right? We close borders, the migrant workers weren’t able to grow the food. You know, there’s a lot of issues and harmful ways that you know, the farm workers are being treated and you know, it affects you know, it’s all interrelated.
V Spehar 49:55
Right. And to your point, we’ve lost a lot of farms. I mean, I Have a statistic here that says between 1935, which is when we started, like really looking at farms pretty seriously in this country, and 2021, we’ve lost 4.8 million farms. So it doesn’t mean that there was 5 million farms in 1935, or something like that. It just means, like, people cannot stay in business, they cannot get their operation up and running the conditions, the climate, the soil quality, the way that we waste food in this country all contributes to why farmers aren’t able to be successful. And with something as big as this, it can just feel like well, what are we going to do? What are we going to do? And it’s take it one step at a time. I think so often we hear bad news, and we hear that everything’s awful. And then we meet somebody like Gina and we’re like, okay, snaps, got a lawyer. I didn’t know that. That’s great. We have advocates out there. There are people who are doing the work to make things better. And we’ll continue to because we just can’t give up on these folks. What’s your hope for the 2023 Farm Bill, what’s our best case scenario?
Gina Plata-Nino 50:56
Our wish list?
V Spehar 50:57
Wish List. Everybody get your pens. Okay? Your Ticonderoga number two pencils out we’re taking down the wish list.
Gina Plata-Nino 51:03
There’s a there’s less legislation being proposed by which has been championed by Representative Alma Adams Right? Which is like we need to have more adequate SNAP benefits so let’s increase it right. So further improve Mr. Snap and eliminating, you know, the cap on shelters inductions and streamlining this is my one of my favorite things as streamlining the ways that states can access and be able to distribute snap and their application system or other sort of wish list is I keep talking about those able bodied adults without dependents. Let’s get rid of those terrible rule. People can’t go to work hungry. That’s why they get sick. That’s why sick days right so let them meet. So getting rid of that. That would be huge. That will be like my number one on the on the on the list. Getting rid of the hot meals provision, allowing individuals to buy their rotisserie chicken.
V Spehar 51:56
I’m hearing three that I’m down for right now. That makes sense to me. One , I don’t want to hear anything about able bodied adults does not being qualified, two let people buy rotisserie chicken in hot food that is just not so bananas, like let them do that. Three, when somebody says, well, there should be a work requirement for SNAP. Think of your grandmother. Think of your great grandmother. Think of your aunt think of your kooky uncle. Think of whoever it is. A lot of these folks are elderly, right? And when somebody tells you that SNAP recipients are lazy, think about how many veterans are on SNAP, right? Were they lazy? Are they lazy now? No. Think about the fact that the number one SNAP recipient is white women with children. Everything that we have been taught to hate about SNAP recipients is just not true. And this is our chance this is our chance to correct our neighbors when they say stuff that’s wrong. Correct or legislators when they say stuff that’s wrong, and just sort of stopped the heat towards folks who are literally just trying to eat so that they can go to work so that they can get out of a bad situation so that they can participate in their community. Rotisserie chicken for all Gina. That’s what I’m saying.
Gina Plata-Nino 53:00
And just plant based rotisserie chicken, I guess for people who have different dietary items, we just want hot foods.
V Spehar 53:05
There we go. I know everybody knows what that feels like, though. You know, you get done your job. And you’re like, man, I cannot cook tonight. But I also can’t afford DoorDash I’m going to get that rotisserie chicken. Let other people in your neighborhood have that same relief. That same feeling of it’s done for tonight. It goes a long way. Gina, where can people find more information about your organization and read up on the farm bill and stuff if they want updates?
Gina Plata-Nino 53:29
Yeah, you can go to frac.org where the Food Research and Action Center will have many toolkits and making it accessible for individuals to be able to advocate and our contact information is there. We really want to be that part Resource Center. Let us know how we can help you advocate in your community, how we can help with education, what resources will be helpful as we engage in this work. And I appreciate your questions of really humanizing this issue because this is really a human issue. And I’ll end with something that one of my favorite elected officials always says that ending hunger, all it takes is a political will, particularly in one of the most wealthy nations on Earth. Right? So let’s think about that, that all it takes is a political will. And that you know, we elect individuals, we can make those phone calls, we can make noise to make sure that we protect our community because these are our neighbors and it deeply affects us and directly affect us.
V Spehar 54:21
That was a lot of information and I’ve got even more for you. The Food Research Action Center aka FRAC has a state by state fact sheet that you should check out to see how ending COVID era emergency provisions is going to affect you, your friends and your neighbors. We will link to that in the show notes for easy access. Be sure to tune in to next week’s episode where we dig into the headlines you might have missed. You can leave me a voicemail at six one to 2938550 Follow me at @underthedesknews on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube. And guess what friends there’s more be interesting with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access As to bonus content, like Mercury Stardust, the trans handyman teaching us how to dress for the hardware store and how to mansplain to the man splinters. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts.
V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.