By Lisa Pino, Deputy Administrator of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
As Deputy Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), I’ve talked to many communities around the country about what more USDA can do to help people fight hunger and have greater access to healthy food. Although it’s been a year since I joined FNS, I remain humbled by the privilege of serving in a role where all of my time is spent helping others through the vehicle of SNAP. SNAP is truly a critical safety net to those in need, and it is by far our nation’s largest anti-hunger program as more than 40 million people a month receive SNAP assistance. Nevertheless, there is always more work to do as we are still not reaching millions of eligible people who could be served.
For this reason, our Southeast Regional Office (SERO) and I conducted a community round table in Miami, Florida to discuss with local leaders how to get more eligible people to participate on SNAP. Although SNAP is at an historic high as the economy continues to recover, too many SNAP eligible people are not on the program despite the benefit. The purpose of the community round table is to learn what barriers prevent their participation, and to identify ideas on how to open up access and improve participation to FNS programs especially among seniors, the working poor, and eligible Hispanics and immigrants. With my partners at the USDA Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, FNS regions like SERO have been doing tremendous work in coordinating community round tables in NJ, AZ, FL, and later this summer in CA and IL.
In Miami, our community round table was held at the Human Services Coalition where over 50 people, ranging from county partners, consulates, community organizations, and faith based organizations joined us. Earlier that morning I had also addressed a Florida ACCESS Community Partner Summit in Boca Raton attended by over 170 organizations. Community partners are critical in our mission to reach those in need and now act as that catalyst to help bridge the non-participating SNAP gap.
The next morning a big surprise occurred when I appeared on national television to talk about SNAP. Despierta America on Univision is the Spanish-language equivalent of Good Morning America, and my four minute interview resulted in almost one thousand calls to our bilingual SNAP call center alone. Later that morning I had the most fun visiting the Little Havana Activity and Nutrition Center, which provides seniors with every kind of help that you can imagine, from SNAP assistance to nutrition counseling to CACFP. As incredible as the Little Havana Center is though, everyone there works hard to have fun, which is so important as too many seniors live in isolation. For this reason, the Center includes daily performances from a retired professional pianist, popular exercise classes, an entire room dedicate to domino playing, and morning salsa. No, not as in the chips and dip kind, but live salsa music. So of course I had to join them on the dance floor, which they do every day as early as 9:00 AM!
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino is interviewed on Univision’s national morning show, Despierta America.
(USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino talks with senior citizens as they play Cuban dominos at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami. (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino takes a break to dance with a senior citizen at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami. (USDA photo by Debbie Haston-Hilger).
FNS Deputy Administrator for SNAP Lisa Pino (center), USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Acting Deputy Director Julie Curti (left), and SERO Regional Administrator Donald Arnette (right), meet with local government leaders, hunger advocates, faith-based groups and community partners, June 3, during a roundtable in Miami.