Opinion – by Laura Molina

I am a single mother of three kids – 8, 10, and 12 years old – and have lived in Denver for 21 years. Up until five years ago, I struggled to find affordable ways to feed my children the healthy food I know they need. I didn’t want to apply for government help because I was scared of the system, didn’t want to be in trouble, or looked down upon because I couldn’t take care of my family – even though I have always worked. After scraping by for many years and relying too heavily on cheaper, less healthy food, I accepted that there was no other way to easily access fresh, healthy foods. So, for the health of my kids, I finally applied for SNAP. Despite my concerns, the program has been wonderful for us. I have access to and can afford more healthy food. Most importantly, I get to choose what I want to feed my kids rather than being forced by price to choose less healthy options. And because SNAP helps cover my food costs, I have more money to pay for housing and to buy clothes and other things my kids need.

Currently, I work at The GrowHaus, a small mercado that serves the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood and many families that have participated in SNAP. Just over a year into the new Administration, I see a change in who is choosing to apply for SNAP. Women in my community, just like me that only want to feed their families, have stopped using SNAP or won’t apply. We hear from more and more of our customers they are going to the food bank now, which means they cannot always get the food they would choose for their families relying instead on what’s available. They are scared off by the SNAP application process or are afraid to apply for a federal program if anyone in their family or household is undocumented. Which means kids are going hungry. Which is unacceptable.

As much as I appreciate the assistance, the process can be hard, it can be embarrassing, and everyone needs to remember that if people didn’t need to do this to make sure they could get the best food possible for their kids—they wouldn’t. Already, when applying for SNAP, you have to report on everything, including how much you are paid, how many kids you have, your social security number, and more. People are scared that everyone in their house will be asked for “their papers.” Often, if you do not speak English, you have to bring your own interpreter with you. SNAP has been a big benefit for me and my family, but it is not always easy.

I am worried the government is trying to make the SNAP application process even harder for people in Colorado. The proposed changes to SNAP work requirements in the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill will mean that more people with children will choose not to apply or will stop using the program. I don’t know all the specifics, but I do know that making parents of kids six and older have to prove every month – every month – they are either working, participating in a work program, or are exempt from the requirements will keep people from applying or staying on the program.  We don’t have that kind of time – we’re working and taking care of our kids. Maybe the point is to kick people off the program or prevent them from applying. That would be sad – because the kids will suffer.

To my neighbors, I want to say this: I know how hard it is. Even with my job, it is hard to afford healthy food. Here in Denver, everything is expensive. Many of us are working hard just to pay rent. And we cannot all do it on our own – a little bit of help can go a long way in making sure a family is as healthy as they can be.

To our government, I want to say this: SNAP is for the kids. Let’s all think about our kids and the easiest way to ensure our kids are healthy. Like many others, I only use SNAP to buy groceries, and with SNAP programs like Double Up Food Bucks, I can buy more fruits and veggies. I used to buy whatever I could find but now I am buying more local, healthy foods from Colorado farmers. My SNAP benefits have made this all possible. We should be making this possible for more families, not fewer!

Laura Molina is a single mom of three kids and has been working at The GrowHaus for the past 18 months. She has been participating in the SNAP program for close to five years.