While wildfires continue to burn in Southern California, thousands of people in the North Bay are navigating the difficult and long rebuilding phase in recovering from the devastating fires that left more than 6,800 structures destroyed and tens of thousands of people displaced in October. Many lost their jobs while others continue to struggle with starting over at square one.
People need trusted support and assistance to get back on their feet again.
Disasters like these are exactly why we have government programs designed to support people facing hardship. Food chain supplies were disrupted, households who lost power had refrigerators full of spoiled food, and, at best, they missed out on a week’s worth of wages.
The CalFresh program, nationally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is vital during hard times and has been recognized as our nation’s first line of defense against hunger.
Disaster CalFresh is a program specifically made available to community members who have experienced loss as a result of a disaster legally recognized by local, state and federal administrations. The program is delivered much like the SNAP/CalFresh benefit via an electronic benefit transfer card — or EBT card — however many of the means-tested requirements are waived. Not having to worry about food is an important piece of solace we can offer to our devastated neighbors.
In the aftermath of these fires and the awful devastation across Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and our Caribbean neighbors, we are seeing all too clearly that we need to protect and strengthen social safety net programs engineered to react in times of high need. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives is going in the wrong direction, voting to approve a budget resolution that would lead to gutting programs like CalFresh. In California, our 14 members of the majority Republican Party all voted in favor of a budget that directs Congress to come up with at least $10 billion in SNAP cuts over the next decade. Their budget plan calls for another $150 billion in cuts to SNAP/CalFresh through unrealistic and reckless policy changes, which would make programs like Disaster CalFresh incapable of responding in a quick and efficient manner when needed. These changes would make hunger an even greater problem after a disaster.
To make matters worse, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was entirely missing from the Trump administration’s latest disaster assistance funding request. While it is possible that the Trump administration will answer the California congressional delegation and Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for $2.5 million to sustain this key program, it clearly is not the priority that it should be. Moreover, the White House’s disaster funding recommendations came paired with the absurd idea that Congress cut important programs to cover disaster costs. They suggested slashing more than half a billion dollars from flood control accounts in order to pay for hurricane damage, for example.
Like those who suffered great losses in the hurricanes, California wildfire victims deserve a federal government that supports them in the immediate aftermath of disaster and over the long term. Right now, we face a Congress and a White House that don’t share that commitment, so we’re going to need to keep working hard to protect vital nutrition assistance programs that support disaster response and aid our friends and neighbors.
Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border and includes most of Sonoma County. David Goodman is chief executive officer of the Redwood Empire Food Bank.