Monday, July 15, 2013

Aren't You Hungry?

For several years up until 1986 Burger King’s main advertising slogan was “Aren’t You Hungry?” The mug in the picture is said to be from the 1970s – and if you happen to have such a mug youll be happy to know that it is now a collector’s item and is reportedly worth $102.

For most of us, hunger is only a temporary discomfort which can be quickly remedied by stopping by Burger King or any of the numerous restaurants competing for our business.
But not everyone has the means to buy a Whopper, Big Mac, or whatever – although, sadly, many financially challenged people spend too much of what little money do they have on fattening fast-food items rather than on more nutritional food.
As we all know, there are multitudes of people around the world and in our own country for whom hunger is a chronic problem, not just a temporary discomfort.
In the U.S., though, buying food is a SNAP for many of the poor people – that’s SNAP as in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, long referred to as “food stamps.”
According to the DoA’s webpage,
SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.
But, as most of you have heard, the government’s provision of funds for SNAP is facing the possibility of decisive cuts. Last week in a highly partisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill without any provision for food stamps.
Hunger assistance has been part of the Farm Bill since the 1960s, mainly for political reasons. And now, also mainly for political reasons, funding for SNAP has been separated from the Farm Bill by the House.
That doesn’t mean that there will no longer be any food stamps. The Senate will most likely not pass the House bill, and the President would most probably veto it if they did. And the House will doubtlessly pass a bill making some funds available for SNAP, although far less than is in the current budget.
Most fiscal conservatives declare that there are far too many people getting food stamps. And there are a very large number of recipients. But the problem is not that so many are getting government assistance. The problem is that there are so many people living below the poverty line, or at least beneath 130% of that line.
In April of this year there were 47.5+ million people on SNAP, which was down slightly from March but up from the 46.2+ million in April 2012. And note this: 47% of the recipients are children below the age of 18.
The financial situation in the corporate world, though, is quite good now. Last Friday both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at all-time highs. Those of us with investments in stocks and bonds are quite happy with our portfolios at this time.
But those who live below 130% of the poverty line do not have investments. A record number now do have assistance from the government in order to buy food. But if the Tea Party Republicans and those who agree with them have their way, there will soon be considerably less money available for SNAP.
As a result, there will be a growing number of people, including many children, who, hearing the question, “Aren’t you hungry?” will have to answer “Yes” when they go to bed – night after night after night.

8 comments:

  1. I'm at a loss. It seems like the most common response is to point the blame at one political group or the other (not saying that's what you're doing here, Leroy); and in the process, nothing gets accomplished and people go hungry.

    Alyssa and I were on food stamps for a few months a little over a year ago when Alyssa's job at a prominent local restaurant suddenly ended (they said the restaurant was closing for two weeks for "renovations," and then never reopened). All we had to live on was my AmeriCorps stipend--which equates to roughly $5/hr--and our SNAP card. I can't fathom what it must be like to have to live on so little for the long-term.

    And it is obvious that the problem does indeed lie with conservatives who feel that the best way to get our country's budget back on track is to cut social assistance programs. So we end up cutting Meals-on-Wheels programs for senior citizens and save a negligible amount of money, rather than making drastic cuts to our bloated defense budget (federal discretionary spending on the military alone--not counting mandatory military spending--is now pushing $1 trillion).

    The discouraging thing to me is that we can point the finger all we want, but what can we do to provide more assistance to those who need it? Is the answer to subvert the political framework in favor of NGOs like Catholic Worker Houses to help feed low-income individuals? That's a nice idea, but it's not enough. I am thoroughly befuddled.

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    1. Joshua, I was happy to find your thoughtful comments posted here.

      Although there often is blame, considering the issue of food stamps at present, it is not a matter of blaming; rather, it is just pointing out facts. The Farm Bill that passed in the House without any provision for food stamps was by a 216-208 vote. There was not a single Democrat who voted for the bill and only 12 Republicans who voted against it.

      As I said in the blog article, the House will pass a bill making funds available for SNAP. But it will, undoubtedly, be far, far less than what is in the present budget -- and far less than what is needed to keep people in this country from going to bed hungry.

      I am a big supporter of Catholic Worker houses and appreciate all that they do. But in light of the fact that there are 47,000,000+ people currently receiving SNAP benefits, there is no way Catholic Worker houses and all the other NGO organizations combined could possible meet the needs of that many people -- or even of all the people who are likely going to lose needed benefits because of Congress's refusal to provide adequate funds.

      I certainly agree that funding needs to be shifted from the military to taking care of the needs of U.S. citizens, but, realistically, that is probably not going to happen soon.

      So, your being "thoroughly befuddled" is certainly understandable. But maybe that means that those of us who are concerned about the needs of the poor must keep on talking/writing and keep on working for a more just society.

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  2. Local Thinking Friend Jerry Cain sent the following comments by email yesterday, and I post them here with his permission:

    "Thanks for bringing this very important conversation related to local hunger to the public debate. I volunteer every Tuesday in the Kearney Food Pantry hoping that my small efforts can make a small difference in this huge problem.

    "I was very pleased to see that the editorial on Sunday, July 14, in the Kansas City Star strongly chastised our local Republican politicians who cut SNAP out of the agriculture bill. These 4 Republicans voted a nice welfare package to area farmers but at this point have done nothing for the hungry in our community.

    "I join you in asking for at least as much aid to the hungry as to the farmers."

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  3. We live in a democracy, and it's my hope that the embarrassing contrast between appropriating money for subsidies for farmers (many who are wealthy) while at the same time not funding SNAP will look so bad that it will have and effect on future voting results.

    Full Disclosure:
    I was embarrassed to discover that a Google search of the certain words will bring up the total dollar amount of government agricultural payments I have received between 1995 through 2012 for land my brother and I inherited. I no longer own any farm land; It was sold a number of years ago. It's not very much when compared to many real farmers.

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    1. Clif, thanks for posting your comments. I hope this will have the effect you hope for, but I wouldn't count on it.

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  4. A Thinking Friend sent the following link to a good article:

    "Paul Krugman’s article about SNAP is a good companion piece to the blog posting you made about this. . . .you can read it online at http://nyti.ms/1amKSB4 ."

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