With the U.S. Senate poised to vote this week on the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Center's Stephen Dykstra talked with Sister Kathy Flynn about SNAP's irreplaceable role in helping at-risk women overcome poverty and achieve self-sufficiency. Sr. Flynn is the Doorways of Hope Employment and Education Case Manager at Opening Doors, a Dubuque-based nonprofit that provides emergency and short-term shelter to impoverished women and their children. Since joining the sisterhood in 2012, Sr. Flynn has worked tirelessly on behalf of incarcerated, indigenous, marginalized or abused women, spending time in cities throughout the Midwest and Washington state.
Drawing from your years of experience, how does SNAP fit into the broader picture of helping women escape poverty?
Every woman I work with uses SNAP—but that’s just a small piece of the puzzle. Many of these women come from extremely difficult backgrounds and are dealing with multiple barriers to success: past abuse, addictions, poverty or mental health issues. Those with children face the struggle of finding affordable childcare, which impacts their ability to hold down a steady job. Quite honestly, many are trying to get by on a day-to-day basis. It’s exhausting to be poor. To have a benefit (albeit meager in retrospect) like SNAP to help put food on the table—it’s a lifesaver for these women. In contrast, cutting SNAP benefits would be devastating and only create more obstacles for these women to become self-sufficient.
Why is food security, specifically, essential for anti-poverty work?
In order to be productive, thriving human beings in our own right, we need our basic human needs met—sleep, shelter, food and safety. SNAP is one of many components needed to lift these women out of poverty. How can anyone deal with the stressors in their life while being hungry? If an individual is struggling to meet basic needs, they’re not going to make improvements. It simply doesn’t work.
Please share an example of an individual that was directly served through SNAP.
There are many examples I could share, but one comes to mind. I worked with a woman who had a young infant. And even though she was working a minimum wage job, she would have been unable to make ends meet without SNAP benefits. In fact, over 93 percent of the women in our program are working (often multiple jobs) and still struggle to earn a living wage. These women don’t want to rely on handouts, but they use these benefits because they need them to survive.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The other night I was watching TV coverage of the horrible things happening along the U.S.-Mexico border when I became acutely aware of how quickly people were labeled as part of the greater national conversation. During a segment on families fleeing Guatemala, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine what these people are experiencing!’ I wonder if the same could be true for many of us regarding people in poverty. Many Americans have no idea what it is like to live in poverty; we don’t internalize the drastic trade-offs associated with cutting funding and benefits. But if we could do a better job of understanding their stories, perhaps we’d approach this issue from a different angle. Maybe we’d all have more compassion and empathy.