By: Nick Santangelo

Last Thursday, the College of Liberal Arts was honored to welcome a special guest: Rep. Dwight Evans (D). The Philadelphia congressman was here for more than shaking hands. Although he did make time to do just that with every student who turned out for his appearance, Rep. Evans was here to answer Temple students’ questions about a very serious but underreported problem. Department of Geography and Urban Studies Adjunct Professor Dr. Amelia Duffy-Tumasz had invited Rep. Evans to speak to her Food & Justice in the City students about healthy food access.

In Pennsylvania’s second congressional district, the poverty number is 190,000 people—26 percent of residents. With insufficient funds for and access to healthy food options, many of them suffer from malnourishment.

“It is probably what I consider the greatest debate that takes place,” responded Rep. Evans to a student question about the congressional debate over the 2018 Farm Bill. “I describe to people that food policy is foreign policy. Food is the common denominator no matter where you go around the world.”

The congressman then turned the student audience’s attention toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program gives millions of low-income families and individuals nutrition assistance and is the largest part of the domestic hunger safety net. But Rep. Evans believes Republicans in Congress and some members of the agriculture community want to gut programs like SNAP because they don’t want to offer subsidies.

Democrats are staunchly against this, outright refusing to negotiate with Republicans on cutting funding, which Rep. Evans said “would only add more misery” for the poor. Instead, he wants to continue funding the subsidy while lobbying for more support and greater access to supermarkets, farmer’s markets and corner stores in “food deserts,” areas where communities don’t have access to food merchants like that. In addition to helping the poor, the congressman also sees a business argument for this approach. “There’s a direct impact when you withdraw SNAP to jobs, to local stores, to local businesses.”

Republicans have countered that they’d invest the savings from SNAP cuts into job training. Their rationale is that will ultimately help people pull themselves out of poverty so that they no longer need to rely on government subsidies. Rep. Evans strongly rejected that strategy.

“First, we’re not going to pay for a new initiative on the backs of poor people,” he said. “After the largest tax reduction in this country in a long time, as Democrats, we’re not going to reduce money to the SNAP program to pay for their new initiative. We’re just not going to do that. That’s a non-negotiable position.”

Continuing, he added that he is, of course, behind the idea of people bettering their lives through education and gainful employment. He believes this is something everyone is behind. Job training paid for through subsidy cuts, however, is not something he sees as the way forward. Instead, he wants more job creation, continued education and workforce development efforts along with a continuation of subsidies like SNAP. While he claimed nobody wants to be in a position where they need to be on the program, the congressman added that many Americans are in fact in that position.

And many of them are college students. One student in attendance referenced a 2017 Temple University study claiming that one out of three community college students are hungry and two out of three are food insecure. “I think it’s only reflective of what’s happening from a country standpoint because colleges are not immune,” replied Rep. Evans. “When you have the debt issue of schools, which is a factor—you know, people’s ability to just be able to finance going to school, it’s an issue.”

To make meaningful strides toward ending the country’s hunger and nutrition problems, the congressman says it’s important to “raise the consciousness” of the issue and develop “a futurist’s view of farming” among politicians. But most importantly, students must get to the polls.

“If you don’t use [your vote], it’s nice to have these discussions, but you have to use that vote to make a difference.”

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