Expert Spotlight: Director of Programs Theresa McCormick
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating in every sense of the word – from the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to the surge in hunger spurred by layoffs and kids losing access to school meals.
Fortunately, we have some of the brightest, most dedicated folks working on both our child hunger and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) outreach teams who are helping families and individuals navigate challenges to ensure they’re getting the food they need to weather the pandemic and beyond.
Directing both programs is Theresa McCormick, who’s ultra-savvy about the intersections between policy, education and hunger. We’re taking you up-close and personal with Theresa and her work.
How does SNAP play into the pandemic and the record-breaking levels of hunger we’re seeing?
SNAP is truly the closest thing we have to a silver bullet in the fight against hunger. The innovative model gives families direct dollars to purchase the groceries they need to keep their families healthy and happy. One of SNAP’s core strengths is its ability to respond to worsening economic conditions like we’ve seen over the last year. As people lose their source of income or see it reduced—like so many have since the start of the pandemic—SNAP ensures they stay healthy and fed by providing temporary food assistance. SNAP also greenlights needed school meals for kids and has kept catastrophe at bay during the COVID-19 hunger surge.
And it’s not just school-aged students who are benefiting from SNAP. The often-overlooked population of college students are now entitled to enroll in SNAP. More than 20% of four-year and community college students live with hunger every day; a crisis only exacerbated by COVID-19, as many of the typical part-time jobs available to college students have been eliminated.
The reality is that food banks like Second Harvest Heartland and our food shelf partners would crumble under the weight of our country’s hunger if we went even a week without SNAP benefits. In fact, SNAP strengthens our country’s economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after the Great Recession, an additional $10,000 in SNAP redemptions contributed on average about 1.0 additional jobs in rural counties and 0.4 additional job in urban counties.
SNAP took some hits under the previous presidential administration – what’s the current landscape looking like?
We’re thrilled to see the Biden Administration prioritizing hunger so early on. Recent executive orders will provide meaningful, though temporary, relief to the 1 in 9 Minnesotans, including 1 in 6 children, who desperately need help. The 15% increase in Pandemic-EBT benefits is a great first step. These benefits are retroactive and can now be extended to children ages 0 through 6 who were previously excluded, a massive relief for families with young children. This change along with the expansion of SNAP benefits, and calling for a revision of the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan—which is used to determine SNAP benefit amounts—will all contribute to Minnesotans getting much-needed food assistance.
Policies like this underscore the importance of working with our federal, state and local officials to bring relief and recovery to our communities struggling with food insecurity. We can’t charity our way out of hunger; we need to understand that SNAP feeds America and invest accordingly.
How can we all help in the fight against hunger?
Protecting SNAP funding is crucial, but it’s just the first step. We all need to work together to peel away the stigma associated with using SNAP and be upfront about the fact that most of us have accepted food or other public assistance at some point in our lives. It’s more important than ever that we talk about these experiences and reject the stigma that has kept us quiet. There’s no shame in accepting help. In fact, there’s strength there, as filling your fridge will allow you to do your critical part to keep this community strong. It sets you up to help someone else when you’re on more solid ground.
If you or someone you know is in need of help or would like more information on SNAP, please visit our SNAP webpage.
Learn more about Theresa and her hunger-fighting expertise.
Here, Theresa moderates a stellar panel of experts on the depth and seriousness of college campus hunger, helping us understand the crisis and available solutions: