In the March 8th, 2022 installment of the Food Justice Series, the panel discussed the history of social welfare programs in the United States and explored how institutionalized racism and stereotyping of marginalized communities have shaped public policy and economic opportunity for communities of color.

The conversation also explored how better investments in our social and economic opportunity programs can advance racial justice and create thriving, equitable communities.

Studies show that social safety net programs help reduce poverty for Americans. Yet social safety net programs are rooted in racial bias. As far back as the Social Security Act of 1935 many Black Americans could not benefit from this program due to discrimination in employment.

As panelist Parker Gilkesson discussed, “Untrue stereotypes have continued to set the tone for harmful myths that contributed to the deliberate exclusion of Black people from the New Deal era policies, which have created the modern benefits programs today.” We need to start considering how these counterproductive policies deter ownership and economic mobility. Systemic racism and the challenges of people accessing benefits, such as concerns around immigration, or a lack of a streamlined way of enrolling in benefits, deters people from receiving the support, only perpetuating poverty.

COVID-19 has been a time of rapid innovation in the social safety net program. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided economic relief to millions of families. While these acts were not perfect, they did aid families and exposed the lack of social support in the US. We need to continue to advocate for these support systems, so we do not unlearn the need to modernize.