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Last Wednesday, 70 Marshallese community members and neighbors gathered in Spokane to protect a critical food source that has helped thousands of families survive in Washington.
As dozens of Marshallese immigrants attested, the State Food Assistance (SFA) program is a lifeline to these Spokane residents, who constitute about 850 out of 1,270 documented immigrants receiving SFA in Spokane County.
Yesterday, Children’s Alliance delivered nearly 40 letters to Spokane legislators from parents, grandparents, and other community members at Wednesday’s meeting.
In one letter, Taruwe Rilometo-Candle wrote about a chronic health condition she got from radiation on her homeland of the Marshall Islands, a U.S. nuclear testing site for more than a decade. By 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission declared the Marshall Islands the most contaminated place in the world.
“I have so many bills from the hospital I have to pay, and if my food benefits get cut, how will I be able to buy food for my family?” Taruwe wrote to legislators.
The U.S. invited citizens of the Marshall Islands to live and work in the states after much of their homeland was contaminated. Over and over, those at the gathering expressed hopes of a brighter, healthier future for their children in the U.S.
“The reason [my husband and I] came to the U.S. is because we brought our children to have more education,” wrote mother Komdirk Stephen.
“What really saddens me the most about the fact the state legislators plan to cut food assistance for my people and other minorities is that we all really want the American Dream,” wrote Yuriko Jack (pictured above right), a Marshallese mother who is a bilingual educator in Spokane schools. “[Legislators could] take away that foundation of starting a new life.”
Spokane’s Marshallese residents are among the thousands of people who rely on State Food Assistance. Recipients come from 166 of the world’s 190 countries. Many are green card holders who have been in the U.S. less than five years, and meet the same income criteria as U.S. citizens who qualify for federal food stamps. Others are domestic violence survivors or crime victims assisting local law enforcement, applicants for asylum in the U.S., temporary residents like citizens of Haiti unable to return home, and citizens of Micronesia, who, like those of the Marshall Islands, are allowed to live and work in the states. SFA feeds 31,000 Washingtonians, including 12,500 kids. No recipients are undocumented.
Soon, families receiving SFA will lose half of their assistance benefits, and might lose all of them if the program is eliminated in the state budget. Food bank leaders, legislators, families, students, and education advocates have all said that reducing these benefits is cruel and economically unsustainable when hunger has nearly doubled since the start of Washington’s recession.
During the Wednesday night meeting in Spokane, it became clear that eliminating SFA would be another devastating hit to Marshallese families who have already endured so much. And their children’s education will suffer, as community member Shako Lomae’s message to lawmakers noted: “Our children go to school; they can’t nurture themselves if you cut State Food Assistance.”
Above: Marshallese community members in Spokane gather Wednesday night to make a final statement to Washington legislators.
Above left: Jabba Ankein writes his message to Spokane legislators to protect State Food Assistance.
Above right: Yuriko Jack, a mother and bilingual educator in Spokane schools, speaks up for her community and their food stamps during Wednesday night's meeting.