The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Michigan Food Program Scenes:
Reminder of The Great Depression

Aug 30, 2021

A demonstration that food insecurity is real and devastating in Southeast Michigan was made visible recently. Resembling soup lines from the Great Depression, lines were out the door and down the street at eight Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) offices between August 12 and 19.

Low-income residents of Wayne and Washtenaw counties could apply for federal Disaster Food Assistance if they were hurt by the June 25–29 catastrophic floods. Because the federal government required in-person interviews be conducted to provide this federal disaster food relief, people had to line up for help.

For years, Michigan has required applications be filled out on the internet for all kinds of help, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps. Internet-only applications meant no more crowds gathering at social services offices. This hid the poor from view.

A one-week bureaucratic change requiring in-person interviews, plus a powerful word-of-mouth campaign by those needing help, led to huge crowds showing up. Two extra days had to be added to allow all who showed up to have a chance to apply.

Out of 10 million Michigan residents, 1.25 million people were already getting food assistance as of July 2021. This one-week emergency program was for people not already getting SNAP help. During one week, people from 22,415 households lined up at eight offices to collect 11.5 million dollars in one-time help. The state said a total of 87,517 residents got the disaster food assistance.

State of Michigan workers from 60 offices helped in order to have enough staff to process benefits.

It is telling that the response to in-person applications was overwhelming. For one week, a bureaucratic burden of requiring the poor to have internet access to complete an on-line application was lifted. When a state worker was there to help a person fill out the application, look how many showed up!

If the feds had not required in-person applications, the depth of the need for food in the community would have remained hidden.