Recap: 5 Takeaways from “Demystifying SNAP: Breaking Down Barriers to Increase Food Access in the Latino Community”

Chef Cesar Zapata

As the backbone of the American economy, Latinos have kept businesses running and Americans fed in their capacity as entrepreneurs and essential workers throughout the height of the pandemic. Yet, today Latinos continue to experience disproportionate impacts of the crisis, leaving many families with kids struggling to put food on the table.

For the successful chef and entrepreneur Cesar Zapata, hunger was a reality as a kid. His family migrated from Colombia when he was a kid and it was difficult to make it to the end of the month. 

“My parents had two jobs to make sure that we had food,” he shared. “We still struggled, waking up and not being able to have breakfast."  

As a kid and like many families today, Zapata relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that ensures families going through tough times have equitable access to food. The story of Cesar exemplifies what's possible when all kids have the food they need to thrive.

But, due to misinformation and cultural, linguistic and structural barriers,resources like SNAP are not reaching  many Latino families who are eligible. 

No Kid Hungry and UnidosUS hosted a virtual Town Hall, moderated by Chef Zapata, to announce their new partnership to increase food access in the Latino community. The partnership consists of a culturally responsive SNAP awareness campaign and the strengthening of UnidosUS’ Comprando Rico y Sano program, a community health worker-led initiative to promote SNAP enrollment and healthy eating.  

Here are 5 key takeaways from the event: 

You may also access the video recording here.

1. Though Latinos have kept businesses running and Americans fed throughout the height of the pandemic, they continue to experience disproportionate impacts of the crisis, including food insecurity.

In 2020, more than 1 in 5 Latino families with children faced hunger, a 28% increase from 2019. The crisis continues impacting Latino children today, which can have serious consequences in their development.

“When children don’t have the food that they need, it really impacts their education, it impacts their ability to learn, because they are focusing on being hungry and they are unable to process information. We want to make sure that kids have a healthy start,” said Monica Gonzales, director of federal government relations at No Kid hungry.  

2. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is available to help put food on the table for families during challenging times, but it is not reaching many who are eligible. 

Rita Carreón, vice president for health at UnidosUS explained that more than 4 million Latinos eligible  were not participating in SNAP.

“A lot of these reasons were largely because either not knowing how to navigate the system,” she explained. “But also anti-immigrant sentiment and policies that were anti-family under the last administration only furthered contributed to enrollment gap.”

3. While SNAP doesn’t cover an entire grocery bill, it does give families a boost during hard times, helps to end poverty and supports our economy

Gonzales emphasized how SNAP helps families through challenging times. She called it “our first line of defense when it comes to addressing hunger during tough economic times.” In 2017, SNAP lifted more than 900,000 children from poverty, including 600,000 Latino children. 

Even though SNAP doesn’t cover the entire grocery bill for a family- it can provide the necessary boost not only to families but also to the economy in general. Every $1 invested on SNAP can generate up to $1.80 to the economy.

“Not only are we thinking about the economic implications of this, but it also benefits and strengthens the support of local and state economies,” stated Carreon. 

4. Misinformation, cultural, linguistic, and structural barriers, including the chilling effect of the now repealed Public Charge rule, continue to keep many Latino families experiencing hardships from accessing vital programs such as SNAP. 

Ingrid Ekblad, economic development director at Hispanic Unity of Florida, has witnessed the barriers that families face accessing SNAP in Broward County, Fla. The Latino families in her community have almost tripled their rates of poverty because of the pandemic and many are afraid to use the benefits available to them.

One of the major barriers is the chilling effect of the now repealed Public Charge rule, a policy from the Trump administration that restricted immigration based on use of public benefits. The policy was repealed by the Biden administration, but many families are unaware or scared to apply.    

 “The fear on the public charge has really impacted the immigrant population here in Broward county. They are still fearful of what that’s going to do to them if they come in and seek service with us,” she explained.

5. The partnership between No Kid Hungry and UnidosUS aims to break down barriers to connect Latino families to SNAP with a culturally responsive awareness campaign and the strengthening of UnidosUS’ Comprando Rico y Sano program. 

The program Comprando Rico y Sano is a community health worker-led initiative to promote SNAP enrollment and healthy eating. The program uses informative spaces so families learn about SNAP eligibility and the application process. The partnership will strengthen and promote this initiative. 

“It’s really critical that partners like UnidosUS that have such a far reach into the community are able to provide that information to people on the ground, that they are able to work with a network of partners that helps them to understand and to create that awareness so that they know that this policy has changed,” added Gonzales.  

Panelists made a call to action to families and community members.

For families, it’s important they know that applying for SNAP will have no immigration consequences for the applicant or for anyone in their family. The policies that put immigrants at risk if they used specific healthcare, nutrition, or housing programs have ended. Eligibility is primarily based on income, resources, and household size.  If you have children, are working in a low-wage job, or have a disability, you may be eligible to enroll in SNAP. To find out more call 1-800-221-5681. 

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