The following is an excerpt from an article posted in the May  in  2020: 

Poverty, hunger, and access to quality health care are large enough problems to deal with during seemingly normal times.

In the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, those social issues are significantly magnified, as it inadvertently exposes the systemic or endemic inequities that exist in some of America’s communities. Shreveport, among other surrounding communities, is no exception.

Thus, it is essential during this anxiety-filled period that all sectors of our society –government, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, faith communities, academia, among others — pull together and collectively find solutions.

Islamic Relief USA, a humanitarian and advocacy organization, has awarded a $5,000 grant to the Islamic Association of Greater Shreveport, located at 111 Dover Court in Bossier City. The grant will help the center administer its social services in the wake of COVID-19 to assist more people (regardless of their faith) in obtaining things like food parcels and hygiene kits.

Both of those items speak to the larger issues of food security and public health.

In the state as a whole, Louisiana has a food insecurity rate of 15.8%, which is higher than the national average of 11.7%. Food insecurity usually stems from poverty.

In Shreveport, some 25.7% of the population lives in poverty. That number is an average, as some areas of the city may fare better than other. It is instructive to look at poverty from a locality-community perspective to get a more precise picture.

A recent United Way report focusing on residents with limited resources found that the poverty rates are much higher on a hyperlocal level. Some of the bigger parishes in Shreveport region – DeSoto, Bossier, Caddo, and Webster– have poverty rates of 46, 46, 53 and 56%, respectively

Statewide, the news is discouraging, as expected. In the first few weeks, more than 70,000 Louisianans filed for unemployment. Local news reported the number of people who applied in the second week jumped some 3,600% (yes, that’s not a misprint) compared to the first week when the coronavirus-related orders were put in place.

Given that statistic, it’s likely more people will require help obtaining food and health care.

These realities suggest we have to continually support the nutritional and health programs that help preserve or improve a community’s well-being. If COVID-19 has shown anything, it is the importance of long-term investment over short-term savings, the latter of which is usually achieved through cuts in services or compromises in quality.

In Shreveport, it is heartening to see that despite schools being shuttered, kids are being fed with “to-go meals” at about a dozen locations. This helps to prevent children in the city from going hungry. Many families, particularly those with limited incomes, depend on the schools for subsidized lunch and breakfast that they may otherwise not be able to provide.

But nonprofit organizations cannot shoulder the entire burden. During these arduous times, it is imperative that federal food security programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), be preserved and not be subject to funding cuts or eligibility barriers. With many states still having shelter-in-place orders (in Louisiana, it’s been extended until May 15), even people who would prefer to work to eat may not have that choice.

Over the years, and especially in recent months, changes have been proposed to SNAP that would make it difficult for current recipients to retain their benefits. Such barriers would increase the food insecurity rate. In Louisiana, such limits would impact more than 30,000 citizens.

There is some good news. It appears that that proposal to scale back SNAP won’t go into effect. At least, not immediately. And, we were pleased to see that some funding has been awarded to child care providers, an industry whose importance to society and in helping carrying out daily lives isn’t sufficiently recognized.

The coronavirus pandemic has also spotlighted the need for a strong public health infrastructure, as early detections and immunizations can help prevent some of our most vulnerable populations from suffering serious illnesses.

In Louisiana, some cuts in various health care programs were proposed in 2018 that would have undoubtedly devastated the state’s most vulnerable populations. Fortunately, those recommendations were not enacted. The outbreak is a reminder of the risks of eliminating such health services.

COVID-19 is likely to teach the different pillars of our society a myriad of lessons. But one of the key points it has already shown is the importance of investing and continually supporting quality safety net programs in order to be well-positioned to cope with unpredictable events. We call on all elected officials, regardless of party, to take this into consideration.

Sharif Aly is the chief executive officer of Islamic Relief USA, a nonprofit humanitarian and advocacy organization that works to alleviate poverty and hunger in more than 40 countries. Syed M. Hassan is IRUSA’s communications specialist.


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