Poverty in Iowa is real and it exists here in Story County. Individuals and families that struggle financially often have to make tough decisions about what bills to pay each month. In many cases their monthly budget does not allow them to save for emergencies, and they may be one transmission or medical emergency away from financial disaster.


We know that many families in poverty often do not have enough food to eat, and are not always eating healthy foods.


At United Way of Story County, we review many data points to better understand the needs in our community. We also look to our partners to determine trends in program usage and have learned that:


• The Salvation Army has seen a 42 percent increase in the number of individuals receiving food from its food pantry.


• MICA has also seen a 7 percent increase in individuals utilizing its food pantry.


• Good Neighbor Emergency Assistance has seen a 15 percent increase in gas vouchers over the past three years.


• During the 2017-2018 school year, 24.1 percent of students received free or reduced lunch.


We have many local programs to serve as a safety net for individuals experiencing hunger — from the BackPack Program providing food to a child over the weekend, to serving congregate meals to seniors at Heartland Senior Services.


The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, known as SNAP, makes targeted, temporary support available to Americans in every state and district in times of hardship. Americans receiving SNAP are the people who need it the most; in fact, the USDA finds that 87 percent of SNAP households include children, seniors and people with disabilities.


The Census Bureau has reported that 39.7 million people — 12.3 percent of all those in the United States — lived in poverty in 2017. SNAP benefits have a powerful anti-poverty effect that is not reflected in the nation’s official poverty statistics. The Supplemental Poverty Measure report indicates that SNAP lifted 3.4 million Americans — including 1.5 million children — out of poverty in 2017.


SNAP has an added benefit of serving as an economic multiplier — meaning it puts critical dollars back into local economies. Every $1 in new benefits generates up to $1.80 in economic activity. Every time a family uses SNAP benefits to put healthy food on the table, it benefits the store and the employees where the purchase was made, the truck driver who delivered the food, the warehouses that stored it, the plant that processed it, and the farmer who produced the food. Each $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits is estimated to create or maintain 18,000 full-time equivalent jobs, including 3,000 farm jobs.


SNAP, unlike childcare assistance programs, is structured to provide a strong work incentive by phasing out benefits slowly as earnings increase. For every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, their benefits decline by about 30 cents. This gives participants more of an incentive to find a job, work longer hours or seek better-paying employment.


More importantly SNAP promotes long-term health and well-being, especially for children. Research has shown that children with access to SNAP in early childhood and whose mothers had access during pregnancy were less likely in adulthood to have stunted growth, be diagnosed with heart disease or be obese, and they were more likely to graduate from high school.


UWSC and its community partners are working to address the reasons why people in Story County are hungry. Supporting our LIVE UNITED Food Drive is one way that you can help contribute to the solution. Another way is to volunteer to deliver a meal to someone in need. If you have time this summer, consider volunteering to help at one of our meal sites. You’ll be happy you did.