Hardworking and Hungry: We need policies that support hard working moms
© Getty

While Mother’s Day conjures images of breakfast in bed and sweet cards made by loving little hands, the reality is that millions of moms across our nation are struggling to ensure that their kids have the nutrition they need to grow up healthy, educated and strong. For those moms, Mother’s Day is just like any other day – one filled with stress and worry about how to stretch limited resources to make sure the food doesn’t run out.

It’s clear that hunger affects a child’s ability to learn and thrive, but its impact on mothers is less obvious. The truth is hunger takes a very real toll on women.

Research shows that food insecurity is more prevalent in households headed by single women than in households headed by single men or married couples.

ADVERTISEMENT

Because low wages are a contributor to poverty, gender income inequality affects a woman’s overall household income and the resources available to purchase food. Balancing work and parenting can be a challenge for any family, but low-income moms who often work in jobs with unpredictable schedules, lack benefits like paid time off, and don’t have access to reliable transportation, face a particularly precarious balancing act.

This means food insecurity disproportionately affects children in households headed by single women, making hunger undoubtedly a women’s issue. 

Moms facing hunger make a lot of trade-offs. They often skip meals to ensure their kids have enough to eat or postpone paying the heating bill to buy groceries for their families. The sacrifices moms make in order to feed their children can be devastating not just to her, but the whole family – illness, stress, workplace absences and decreased productivity are just a few side effects. 

I know what these sacrifices look like because my own mother faced them.

As a single mother of two, my mom waitressed at night to help make ends meet while she pursued her nursing degree by day. We relied on critical federal nutrition programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school breakfast and lunch to help fill our refrigerator and our bellies, and to nourish our developing minds.

The programs worked as they should have, filling the gaps in our meals while my mom worked to advance her education and build a better future for herself and her kids. 

My mom stayed awake many nights, but, thanks to these programs, it was never because she worried about how she would feed her children.

Ensuring kids have the best start in this world of opportunity begins with access to healthy food for them to grow and thrive, and that’s the role filled by federal nutrition programs.

Strong kids need strong moms. One way to ease the burden on hard-working moms is to make sure their kids get a healthy breakfast as part of their school day.

Breakfast may only take a few minutes, but every minute is precious to a mother working one or more hourly-wage jobs, who relies on public transportation to get her kids to school and often has to make tradeoffs about whether to buy a carton of eggs or pay the electricity bill. And when kids get breakfast or other meals, like lunch and afterschool snacks, at school, it frees up more resources for parents to provide for their nutritional needs at home.

SNAP is another program that eases the burden on moms. It gives families resources to purchase food – females account for over half of all single-person households participating in SNAP and close to half of all SNAP participants are children. But benefits are low, averaging $1.40 per person per meal, and often run out by the third week of the month.

We need our lawmakers to protect and strengthen these critical nutrition programs, not cut them. And we certainly need to ensure that people don’t lose their food benefits after losing their jobs or having their work hours cut.

Recent proposals in the 2018 Farm Bill would kick SNAP recipients out of the program for one year if their work hours fell below 20 hours per week in one month. This would be devastating for single moms who need to stay home to care for a sick child or who can’t find off-hours child care.

Policies like this don’t work, and they certainly don’t support hard working moms.

As a mother of four myself, I am acutely aware of the struggles my mother once faced. And while I worry about my children a lot, I never worry that there isn’t enough food in the refrigerator.

Not all moms are that fortunate, however. So, the best thing you can do for hardworking and hungry moms this Mother’s Day is supplement the greeting cards and flowers with a call to your legislator. Because when women in our community are strong and healthy, we all win.

Lisa Davis is a Senior Director of Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.