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Friday, September 28, 2012

Washington food stamp challenge

If you didn't know, September is hunger awareness month. Where the effects of poverty on children, the elderly and the unemployed are once again largely ignored by the news cycle, and therefore largely ignored by a majority of the population. While it's not widely discussed, odds are that you may know someone who is suffering from hunger.

Studies have shown that 1 in 6, nearly 50 million Americans struggle to afford food. Even with help there are still families that have a very high food insecurity rate. 

(Data as of August 30, 2012)
Year Persons Households COSTS Per Person Per Household
FY 2011 44,708,726 21,072,113 71,810,991,227 133.85 283.99
FY 2010 40,301,878 18,618,436 64,702,164,628 133.79 289.60
FY 2009 33,489,975 15,232,115 50,359,918,853 125.31 275.51
"*" Includes disaster assistance which is notated for current fiscal year only.  Prior fiscal years may also include disaster assistance
Link to:  SNAP Disaster Response 
FY 2012 data are preliminary; all data are subject to revision.
This graph from the USDA website shows just how many people have enrolled in SNAP.Since 2009, 11 million Americans have been added to the roles. According to the census bureau in 2011 the poverty rate held on at around 15%, which is roughly 46 Million Americans who were living in poverty last year.

It's no coincidence that these two numbers are nearly identical. 

Since the recession formally ended, we've still had meager job growth, posting just over 100,000 jobs a month, as opposed to the last six months of the Bush administration when we lost 3.5 Million jobs. The job losses continued under President Obama until October 2010, when the economy began to add jobs again. 

The link between  unemployment, poverty, and hunger is absolutely unmistakable. One thing leads to another.

So with all of this evidence, why don't we see more being done to stamp out poverty and hunger? Surely the wealthiest country in the world has the means to solve the basic problem of food insecurity, right?

Sadly no; but it's not for lack of resources as we hear, but it's a lack of will.

It's also because it's easier to blame the victim instead of admit that our system is flawed and not doing enough to help people not only feed themselves, but to create jobs that pay a living wage.

We can do better.

It seems however that we are on a path to do worse. The latest spat in congress is over the Farm bill, which aims to cut food stamps by $16 Billion over the next ten years. Kicking 280,000 low income children off the free lunch program, reducing benefits to families by $90/month and throwing an estimated 3 Million people off the program entirely.

All of this is because of the conservative belief that people on food stamps are there because they want to be. As someone who is personally benefiting from the SNAP program, I can tell you it is not glorious, and not something I personally want to be on. 

My wife and I receive a total of $93 a month in SNAP benefits, though we are both unemployed full time students who are trying to get our associates degrees. 

Many conservatives will probably tell me to "get a job, bum." It's not easy, as I mentioned above there is a stigma about someone who is unemployed, even through no fault of their own. So getting a job is not an easy thing, believe me, not even the local Wal-Mart has ever given me a call back. 

There's also a stigma about being poor in general. Reagan's welfare queen attacks have turned falling on hard times as a sign of personal weakness, a flaw in character, a failure as a human being. There's an even bigger stigma to relying on assistance to survive. 

There is also a belief among many that people like me are living high on the hog. I just had a birthday yesterday. No presents, no cards, no cake. Just mac and cheese with a side of ramen, another normal day. And it's like that and worse for so many others. 

We need to do something more to get our elected leaders to do something, either by increasing benefits, or better yet creating good paying jobs and ending unemployment discrimination for the long term unemployed. A good job, with a living wage is something that should be in reach for everyone who wants one. 

We also need to stop with demonization of the poor. We need to stop the blame, and the hate, what good will it do to kick someone when they're down. 

Here's my idea. 

Everyone in Washington needs to do a food stamp challenge. I have created a petition at SignOn.Org to encourage the people in Washington to take part in the Food Stamp challenge to raise awareness and get the politicians to actually do something about this issue. 

Because there's no excuse for the richest country on Earth to have those who are going hungry.

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