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Barriers to Access: The Unencumbered Client in Private Food Assistance

Alana Haynes Stein

Journal Articles

Social Currents
Published Date
October 2022
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The private food assistance network has expanded amidst a receding welfare state, signaling the privatization of food assistance and other social services. Simultaneously, the cultural association of poverty with morality characterizes some individuals as more “deserving” of assistance than others.

As people seek social services, they must navigate programs embedded with these ideas of deservingness. I use data from 21 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with food bank clients and over 225 hours of participant observation at a California food bank and its partner agencies to examine how clients experience barriers to accessing private food assistance. I find that nonprofit program structures are designed to serve an unencumbered client, yet even populations characterized as “deserving” do not meet the characteristics of the unencumbered client.

This nearly unattainable status of unencumbered client contributes to inequity emerging from the structural level that manifests as individuals try to access and use private food assistance. These structural barriers manifest in four ways at the food bank: material resources, nonprofit infrastructure and coordination, communication channels, and policing. Based on these findings, organizational practices of nonprofits are of key importance when considering the reproduction of inequality in society.

Haynes Stein, A. (2022). Barriers to Access: The Unencumbered Client in Private Food Assistance. Social Currents, 10(3), 207–224.

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