The MarylandAlliance for the Poor pursues public policies and funding that protect the well-being and dignity of Maryland children, families, seniors, and single adults living in or near poverty.MAP believes that State policy should assist Maryland residents with limited financial resources to move beyond their current circumstances, with the help of progressive policies on the inter-related issues of homelessness, affordable housing, energy, health, hunger, employment, taxes, child care, and welfare reform.
A working definition of hunger, according to the Food Research and ActionCenter, is “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food.” This definition aptly describes the single and very personal episode of hunger. However, a fuller understanding of the condition of hunger, or food insecurity, points to a recurrent and involuntary condition that stems from lack of access to sufficient food, financial resources, and/or community assets — such as community-based food markets. Over time, persistent hunger and food insecurity can lead to malnutrition and poor health outcomes. These twin challenges — hunger and malnutrition — are among the most startling symptoms of poverty in this wealthy nation.
Two federally-funded programs help Marylanders in low-income households buy the food they need to keep themselves and their families healthy. Both provide a critical benefit to low-wage working households, as well as to families and individuals receiving cash assistance. Food Stamps are used like cash, allowing participating individuals to purchase food, or to buy plants and seeds which they will use to grow food for themselves. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides checks with which participants can purchase specific healthy foods according to their unique nutritional needs; the program also provides nutritional counseling to determine those needs.
Food Stamps: In June 2005, 292,340 Marylanders in more than 133,550 households received Food Stamps. Of these individuals, nearly 213,350 were in low-wage working households and the remaining 78,990 were receiving cash assistance. Food Stamps are available to households with up to $2,000 in countable resources and income at less than 130% of the FPL. Some exceptions to these requirements exist for households with elderly or disabled members. Food Stamps are used like a debit card: an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, called the “Independence Card” is used to make purchases. Households participating in the program may use their benefits only to purchase food items; non-food item necessities such as toothpaste, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and personal hygiene goods are not covered. The federally-funded program is operated out of the Family Investment Administration (FIA) of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC): WIC served over 109,230 pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children under age five in June 2005. In Maryland, the WIC program is open to people who already receive Food Stamps, Medical Assistance, Temporary Cash Assistance, or who participate in the Maryland Children’s Health Program. Applicants may also qualify on the basis of need by meeting specified income requirements, including income at or below 185% of the FPL. WIC checks may be redeemed at approved vendors for certain nutritious foods such as milk, baby formula, eggs, cheese, dried beans, and cereals. The types of foods are specified according to the participants’ unique dietary needs. Women and children participating in WIC receive personalized nutritional assessment and education, and new mothers receive counseling and education to promote breastfeeding. The federally-funded program is operated out of the Family Health Administration of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Gaps and Challenges
Food Stamps: After a decline, Maryland’s participation in the Food Stamp program has been rising steadily in the past four years. Since the average monthly participation in the Program was 208,426 in 2001, participation has risen more than 40%: Maryland saw 83,914 more individuals participate in June 2005 than 2001’s monthly average. From the 2001 figure, participation rose by 19,903 in 2002, another 24,054 in 2003, another 21,489 in 2004, and then another 18,468 to the June 2005 level of 292,340.
WIC:Maryland’s participation in the WIC program has also been rising in the past four years. Since the average monthly participation in the Program was 93,829 in 2001, participation has risen more than 16%: Maryland saw 15,404 more individuals participate in June 2005 than 2001’s monthly average.