She said that as the system dictated, they gave this woman food packages, but said she remembers feeling that if the woman could afford drugs, she could afford food. She said at the time she was not aware of the multigenerational effect and did not mean to diminish the importance of safety nets like WIC. The words that resonate with her in this workshop session, she commented, related to violence, drugs, and alcohol and asked how the food security research community can address these issues. Though they may be root causes of food insecurity, some of these issues seem to be beyond the scope of food insecurity researchers.
Chilton acknowledged the complexity and the struggle about providing the WIC food package when the participant may buy drugs. She asked the audience to think about why the woman might be using drugs, suggesting she might be self-medicating from past exposure to trauma or sexual violence. If she is not given the food package, what other kind of risks is the program exposing her to? A number of states are making efforts to require people who are signing up for SNAP benefits to undergo drug tests. If they test positive, then they would not be able to receive the benefits. But, she said, no discussion is under way about whether people struggling with addiction might need help, and no effort to help them.
She suggested the need to rethink the relationship between SNAP and WIC and other subsidies, suggesting that the subsidies might be a way to encourage families to come into the system and then find them more help. She said WIC has done a good job in several states integrating domestic violence counseling into the WIC offices and expressed support to providing food and nutrition education and helping hook people into other services. Chilton mentioned also that WIC is associated with reducing stress (Black et al., 2012).
She closed by saying the system needs to recognize that when people are extremely poor, using drugs, or experiencing drug addiction, a long line of offences and violations to their dignity and health and safety need to be taken into account. They should not be judged in the moment for smoking or using alcohol. She said care is needed in framing research. Much research is needed into the impact of exposures to severe violence and to severe poverty at the same time during early childhood. She suggested focusing on early childhood might be the “clincher” to solve this problem.