UnidosUS Affiliate Latino Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Alliance explains how they enroll the community in SNAP.
By Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps 40 million Americans—including 10 million Latinos—put food on the table every day. Helping eligible families get enrolled in SNAP is a crucial component of the work that UnidosUS Affiliates do as part of the Comprando Rico y Sano program, funded by the Walmart Foundation, which educates and empowers our community to make healthy food choices.
One of the UnidosUS Affiliates that’s part of the Comprando Rico y Sano program is Latino Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Alliance (LAMDA), an Affiliate based in Chicago, Illinois. Enrolling eligible families in SNAP is a key part of LAMDA’s work.
Constantina Mizis, LAMDA’s executive director, explains that the Latino population that LAMDA serves is predominantly low-income, making between $12,000 and $17,000 a year, and is 65 or older. As a result, making sure that families get enough food on the table is not the only concern LAMDA has—far from it.
“For other organizations, SNAP is putting food on the table. For LAMDA, SNAP is the first step to prevent dementia,” Mizis says.
BEING RELEVANT TO THE COMMUNITY
One of the risk factors for dementia is obesity, in addition to diabetes and heart disease. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than Whites to develop Alzheimer’s. However, the risk can be reduced by adopting a lifestyle that includes eating foods low in salt, fat, and cholesterol, and more dark-skinned fruits and vegetables like spinach, red bell pepper, purple onion, plums, berries, oranges, and cherries.
Additionally, using olive oil, grapeseed, or canola oil instead of margarine or corn oil, eating more foods like almonds and walnuts that are rich in omega-3s, and baking or grilling food instead of frying it can help improve brain health for the long-term.
Mizis says SNAP can help address these issues, because it provides, “access to buy foods such as fruits, vegetables, cereals, and baby formula and put them on the table of every eligible family.”
As a result, SNAP is a vital program for millions of families across the country. However, even though there are 10 million Latinos enrolled in the program, Mizis adds that the Department of Agriculture estimates that approximately four million Latinos are eligible for SNAP but have not been enrolled in the program. LAMDA and other Comprando Rico y Sano participating organizations know the issues firsthand and are able to help thanks to their partnership with the program and UnidosUS.
“The first challenge is really to get to that application. And the first challenge will be not having the appropriate personnel who are linguistically competent, culturally competent, and who can explain well to people what the program is really about,” Mizis says.
To help get more members of the community interested in enrolling in the program, LAMDA has developed strong partnerships with Latino media outlets in the area—including radio, TV, and newspapers—that can help them reach their audience.
In addition to bringing information on SNAP enrollment to health fairs, LAMDA also partners with local schools. “After the kids are dropped off, parents and grandparents go to another classroom,” Mizis says, adding that this arrangement provides them a ready audience to hear their material on nutrition education.
SNAP FOR HEALTH
SNAP is a vital program for our community, and for all Americans. Forty-four percent of SNAP recipients are children, and 55% of households with children work and earn wages—sometimes still coming up short despite having multiple jobs.
SNAP can make the difference between a family being able to feed their children and needing to go hungry. As a result, we’ve launched the SNAP for Health video campaign, our new video series showing the real-life impact and importance of SNAP in our community.
“There are many myths and generally untrue statements are assumed—that if the parents are not eligible, automatically the children aren’t either. [However] if the children are citizens, they’re eligible, even though the parents are not, so they can obtain SNAP benefits, among many other things,” Mizis explains in the video below.
Last October, the Trump administration formally proposed a change to how a ‘public charge’ is defined under our immigration standards. Under the current definition, someone who is a public charge relies on public cash assistance for more than half of their total income. The way that the Trump administration has sought to define public charge would include non-cash assistance programs like Medicaid, Head Start, and SNAP in a family’s eligibility for a green card.
When asked if the community is experiencing fear around this proposed rule or even dropped their benefits, Mizis says, “In the beginning when the administration started, yes, but not now.” She adds that LAMDA has also established a permanent site in the Chicago area dedicated to enrolling people in SNAP and sharing resources.
BUILDING TRUST IN THE COMMUNITY
While LAMDA has spent a decade building trust in the community, Mizis also attributes the lack of fear to the Chicago area’s status as a “sanctuary city” where local law enforcement don’t share information on immigration status to federal immigration agents. She acknowledges that local officials have organized “know your rights” forums to inform the Latino and immigrant community about their rights under law. As a result, there is a strong culture of trust between the community and the local government, as well as between the community and LAMDA.
“I believe that the Latino community has been more educated now than ever because of what happened three years ago,” when President Trump was elected, Mizis says. She is confident in the continued use of SNAP as a tool to help mitigate dementia in the Latino community.
UnidosUS, through its Comprando Rico y Sano program, is proud to be playing a role in helping to mitigate this condition for the Latino community that LAMDA serves.