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86 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"
A father and son return from the farmer's market in the Anacostia area of the District of Columbia. Photo by Eugene Mebane, Jr.
In his speech today on economic mobility, President Obama mirrored many of the main themes of Bread for the World Institute's 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, released just last week. Among these are recommendations to end hunger and extreme poverty by creating good jobs, investing in people, strengthening the safety net, and building community partnerships.
The president focused on the alarming rise in inequality in the United States, the dramatic decrease in economic mobility -- and the harm these are doing to our economy, our families, and our democracy. While he spoke more in terms of a vision than of a concrete goal to reduce poverty and hunger, Obama mentioned a number of the Hunger Report's more specific recommendations, such as making high-quality preschool accessible to every child, strengthening the role of collective bargaining, and increasing the minimum wage so that workers no longer live in poverty.
The president said that America's basic bargain -- that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead -- has been jeopardized. "Since 1979, when I graduated from high school," Obama said, "our productivity is up by more than 90 percent, but the income of the typical family has increased by less than 8 percent. ... Meanwhile, a family in the top 1 percent has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family, which is a record for this country."
The opportunity gap in the United States is now based as much on class as on race, Obama said. A child born into a family in the top 20 percent of income earners is likely to stay near the top -- about two-thirds of such children do. A child born into the bottom 20 percent, on the other hand, has less than a 5 percent chance of making it to the top 20 percent. Also, the president noted, the gap in test scores between wealthy children and poor children is almost twice as large as that between white and black children.
The 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, was launched just before Thanksgiving. For the past month, Institute Notes has featured a series of posts offering previews of the report. We pointed out that widespread hunger now threatens to become a scandalous “new normal” situation in the United States – it’s risen by nearly 40 percent since 2000.We made the case that not only is it an achievable goal to undo the damage the Great Recession did to U.S. food security, but it is also feasible to eradicate hunger entirely by 2030. We presented a carefully researched four-step plan that leaders at all levels, in partnership with local communities, can use to end hunger in our country. Our most recent post, coinciding with the report launch on November 25, offers a brief recap of these four steps.
In just the few days since the launch, we’ve received a lot of feedback -- on the launch presentation, the report, and the exciting new ways we’re presenting its messages on hungerreport.org. Here’s a quick round-up of what our partners and friends have been talking about:
1. An Expert Panel of Perspectives
No one has more authority to speak on hunger in America than those who have experienced it. At the Hunger Report launch, panelists Barbie Izquierdo, Dominic Duren, and Sharon Thornberry helped humanize the effects of even a seemingly small change in policy or funding.
2. No Paper Needed
The executive summary is available for iPad and eReader download, and the entire report can now be read in page-flipping book format at hungerreport.org/downloads.
3. Interactive Stories
The policies examined in the 2014 Hunger Report have very real impact for millions of Americans. At hungerreport.org/profiles we present four stories that combine multimedia and interactive data to make that clearer than ever.
4. Infographics to Share
Hunger’s causes and solutions are complex. That’s why we need the full report to give them the space they deserve. But a good place to start is with the 2014 Hunger Report infographics -- to get the top messages of the report in bite-size form, and pass them on through social media.
The panel of speakers at the launch agreed that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ending hunger is not an impossible dream. With strong commitment and the right tools, we really can end it.
Check out HungerReport.org to explore all of the tools available to Hunger Report readers, and if you missed them, be sure to read blog posts one, two, three, four, and five of the 2014 Hunger Report series.
Posted by Bread on December 02, 2013 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Climate Change, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Gender, Global Hunger, Hunger Report, Immigration, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Development Goals, Religion and Hunger, Trade, U.S. Hunger, Weblogs | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Millions of older Americans struggle to put food on the table. Photo: Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels.
Today, Bread for the World Institute is pleased to announce the release of Ending Hunger in America, our 2014 Hunger Report.
The report offers a clear, achievable four-step plan to make hunger a rare and temporary phenomenon, rather than the widely-shared national experience it is today.
With an economy still faltering as we enter 2014, nearly five years after the Great Recession technically ended, it would be all too easy to accept as a new normal the idea that tens of millions of Americans struggle to put food on the table. But our country has the knowledge and resources not only to reverse the ground lost since 2007, but to make rapid progress toward a hunger-free society.
The president should set a goal to end hunger in America and work with Congress to develop a plan to achieve the goal within 10-15 years.
A plan to end hunger should include
- a jobs agenda
- a stronger safety net
- human capital development
- public-private partnerships to support community anti-hunger initiatives
In 2000, the last time the United States had full employment, the household food insecurity rate was 10.5 percent. In 2012, it had surged to 14.5 percent. That translates into a 28 percent increase, in just 12 years, in Americans who struggle to put food on the table.
This also means, however, that a strong economic recovery capped by a return to full employment would improve U.S. food security levels by at least 25 percent. And full employment by 2017 is possible if Congress puts partisan politics aside and agrees on the necessary investments to spur faster job growth.
This is the world’s wealthiest country, and most of us are compassionate, fair-minded people. We should support each other through life’s ups and downs and prepare our children to earn a decent living. Sustainable reductions in hunger on the order of 50 percent or more will depend on strengthening the safety net and investing in human capital.
To end hunger altogether, we must also confront knottier social issues, such as racism and other forms of discrimination that drive too many people to the margins of society. The United States, like many other countries, has its own group of ultra-poor people, including more than a million households with children that have incomes below $2 a person a day.
Ending hunger in the United States will require leadership not only at the federal level but also at the state and local levels. There are countless examples of locally-led initiatives that are achieving great success in their communities.
The United States has a track record of making rapid improvments in the economic well-being of our people. If we decided to make ending hunger a priority, we could wake up in 2030 and think of the hard times of 2013-2014 -- with, for example, 48 million low-income Americans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP -- formerly food stamps) -- as a bad dream.
To learn more, read Ending Hunger in America, released today in print version and available at the Hunger Report website.
As part of my work on the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, I traveled to several parts of the country to talk with people about how they and their communities are fighting hunger. I wrote a chapter for the report based on community-level anti-hunger initiatives.
I believe it’s impossible to end hunger without strong community support. This doesn’t mean that a community eschews government assistance—on the contrary, government programs are often the foundation on which local initiatives are based.
“Communities” are based less on geographical boundaries than on common interests. Some of the communities I visited were small towns and cities. In one case, it was an entire state (Arkansas)—the governor was leading the effort. While government involvement isn’t always necessary, leadership is essential. Someone has to want to make it his or her issue and be willing to put in the effort to get others to see that it is their issue too.
I’ve always been curious about why in some communities, nearly 100 percent of all those eligible for food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) are participating in the program, while other places may not even get to 50 percent participation. It seems clear that it has a lot to do with whether the community supports the program and wants to make it easy, or at least less cumbersome, for people who need assistance to get it. Stigma is a powerful countervailing force that keeps many people from reaching out for help. A supportive community will try to reduce that stigma.
It’s one thing to encourage people to take advantage of the assistance they qualify for. But how do communities come to realize and accept that it is the government, not charities, that is the main source of nutrition assistance and must therefore be the main focus of anti-hunger advocacy?
Indianapolis is one example of how a community learned how to fight hunger more effectively. Dave Miner, a former board chair of Bread for the World, leads the Indy Hunger Network (IHN) in Indianapolis. Dave and his wife Robin collected information on all the major sources of food assistance in the city and produced a simple pie chart so that anyone can visualize where Indianapolis’ food assistance comes from. The chart is reproduced below. As it shows, federal nutrition programs accounted for more than 90 percent of the food assistance in Indianapolis in 2012, with SNAP alone making up 73 percent.
Indianapolis is not an anomaly when it comes to the amount of work the federal nutrition programs are doing to end hunger. When people think about food assistance in their community, the images that come to mind are people providing food to their neighbors, children collecting canned goods for a food drive at their school, the food pantry in a church basement, a soup kitchen for homeless people. A government program does not seem the same as a neighbor, but the fact is that’s where most hunger relief comes from.
Indianapolis has set a goal of ensuring that by 2015, all people who are hungry will be able to get the nutritious food they need. To realize this goal, contributions are needed from both public and private programs. SNAP can fill some of the meal gap, but it cannot do it all. Research by the food bank network Feeding America indicates that 42 percent of the food-insecure people in the Indianapolis region have incomes too high to be eligible for federal nutrition programs. This means that their only sources of food assistance are private charities.
The pie chart has galvanized support for the contributions that SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other federal nutrition programs make toward achieving the goal of being hunger free. Having the pie chart there to look at also makes it easier for people who might not otherwise be inclined to pick up the phone to call their member of Congress or visit the member’s local office to advocate for these programs, and to persuade their friends and family to do so as well.
There are countless examples of locally led initiatives that are achieving great success in their communities. At their core, these initiatives are formed around the belief that to end hunger at the community level, a broad range of stakeholders must unite behind a common vision and strategy. Community ownership is critical to achieving sustainable solutions to hunger. Partnerships at the local level, and those between local initiatives and state and federal government, build that ownership.
Dominic Sr. is the director of the HELP program in Cincinnati, Ohio. The program works with men who are ex-offenders – “returning citizens,” as they prefer to call themselves – to help them cope with the difficulties they face in trying to integrate back into their communities and find jobs.
I am pleased to say that I got the ball rolling on the cover shot by writing about the HELP program in the 2014 Hunger Report. Joe traveled to Cincinnati at my suggestion to take pictures and make a short film about the men in the HELP Program. The film will be up on the Hunger Report website beginning November 25, the same day we launch the report.
Initially, I came to the HELP Program to talk with Dominic and other returning citizens about food stamps (now SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In some states, federal law prohibits some returning citizens who would be eligible based on their incomes from receiving food stamps/SNAP benefits. Because states have the option of waiving or modifying the federal law, it does not apply in all states. Ohio is one of those that waived the law. I met with members of the HELP program because I wanted to hear from them how SNAP benefits made a significant difference in helping them with their transition back into society.
One of the men I met is named TJ, short for Terry Jones. At 41 years old, TJ decided for the first time to apply for SNAP benefits. He’d been eligible for benefits based on his income for most of his life, but he said he never considered applying because he was too proud. When he was a kid, his father told him there were three things a man should never do: pawn possessions, sell his blood, or use food stamps. TJ changed his mind about food stamps because of his own kids. Once he got out of prison, he wanted to help make sure they got enough to eat. That was his job as their father, the way he explained it to me. The SNAP benefits aren’t enough to feed him and the children together, but they help family members avoid some of the gnawing hunger they face at the end of each month.
When you talk to returning citizens about the difficulties of reentry, you realize very quickly that being released from prison doesn’t mean the end of their punishment. For example, the risk of being homeless is high. Family and friends may want to help by offering the recently-released person a place to live, but the law prohibits anyone who receives federal housing assistance from doing this. Getting caught flouting the law means that they could lose their housing assistance and possibly become homeless themselves.
Legal restrictions on SNAP, housing assistance, and other benefits mean that the family members of returning citizens – including children – are punished alongside them. In 2012, there were more than 800,000 parents serving time in prison, more than 80 percent of them fathers. When they’ve finished serving their sentence, they will return to their communities. I think most will feel the way TJ does – obliged to do what they can to feed their children.
People who are already severely disadvantaged face daunting obstacles in adjusting to life outside prison. One of the reasons recidivism rates are so high in the United States is the combination of laws such as these with the difficulty ex-offenders have in finding jobs. For instance, it is common for job applications to ask applicants whether they have ever been convicted of a felony. The bias against those who check “yes” is palpable. Perhaps it is a prospective employer’s right to ask such a question, but my point here is that someone returning from prison faces extraordinary difficulties. It takes strength to persevere when it feels as though the odds are overwhelmingly against you.
Marquez McCoy is another man in the HELP Program that I met. There is no mistaking Marquez for a man who can’t work. A small, muscular guy in his early 30s, he looks like a boxer – a welterweight. For most of his adult life, he’s been trying to dodge one knockout blow after another. Less than a month before I met him, he’d been turned down for a job working in the storeroom at a casino. People get passed over for jobs all the time – it was how it happened this time that illustrates the ongoing challenges that the men in the HELP Program, and every other returning citizen, face.
Marquez made a strong impression on the manager of the storeroom. He was up front about his past, and the manager was willing to give him a try. He too was up front with Marquez and told him that the Human Resources department might not be as open to hiring someone with a criminal record. To boost his chances, the manager asked Marquez to provide five letters of recommendation instead of the usual three. Marquez did him two better and provided seven letters, including one from a judge. Late on a Friday, Marquez got a call from the manager of the storeroom, not to offer him a job but to apologize because the HR department had turned him down because of his felony conviction.
It was the closest Marquez had come to getting a job in more than a year, and when it fell through he plunged into a severe depression, convinced he was never going to make money except by going back to what he did before going to prison – selling drugs. The men in the HELP Program worked with him, lifting him out of the depression, until the temptation to go back on the street and hustle subsided.
Marquez entered the drug world, like so many kids from his community, about the time he was old enough to realize the smallness of his world compared to that of other kids. In grade school, he liked to learn and had good grades. When he was 13, he had a summer job with the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative that included cleaning schools in more privileged areas of the city. He saw what those schools looked like compared to his. In his neighborhood, most parents don’t finish high school, so the only education they can offer their kids was how to survive on the street. By the age of 13, Marquez knew all he needed to know to take home $500 a week in the drug trade. He could buy lunch for himself and anybody else he wanted to. Free lunches in the cafeteria stopped being a reason to come to school.
Mike Murphy, the executive director of the HELP Program, says the state of Ohio spends $42,000 a year to house and feed someone who is incarcerated. This cost to society should warrant more of an investment in a person’s transition back into the community – and repealing laws that prohibit family and friends from helping ex-offenders get back on their feet would cost nothing.
On this Veterans Day, we remember all those who made sacrifices -- including, of course, many who gave their lives -- to defend our country.
But those who return from military service often fall on hard times. The Center for American Progress reports that as of December 2011, nearly one in seven homeless adults were veterans. U.S. census data from 2010 showed that nearly a million veterans between the ages of 18 and 64 -- more than 968,000 -- had lived below the poverty line within the previous 12 months.
The results of one of the first polls to focus specifically on veterans and hunger were released on Veterans Day 2011. In New York City, the survey showed, about one in four households with military veterans had trouble putting food on the table.
Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, which commissioned the poll, said then, "Survival was supposed to be about getting them home to their families. But their second level of survival is how to be fed and have dignity."
Ironically, veterans who worry about where their next meal will come from may well have helped to feed others. The U.S. military has a history of working to make food available to hungry civilians in the aftermath of conflict. One intervention that helped establish an anti-hunger role for the military: The date was 1918. As a piece in the Huffington Post describes, American soldiers in northern France set up makeshift kitchens and distributed food that saved the lives of refugee children and families.
Many veterans have young children to support. Others have already raised their families, while still others served this country's interests but do not have a spouse and children. In a wealthy country such as the United States, all of these men and women deserve sufficient nutritious food.
On November 25, the Monday of Thanksgiving week, Bread for the World Institute will release the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Over the next three weeks, I will continue to preview sections of the report.
The report offers a plan to end hunger in the United States by 2030. That’s more than enough time to get the job done, especially when you consider there are people in high places—for example, Jim Kim, president of the World Bank—who believe it is possible to end poverty globally by 2030.
With bold political leadership from the current and next U.S. presidents, Congress, governors, and state and municipal legislators—plus a public willing to do its part by holding these elected officials accountable—it wouldn’t take long at all to achieve dramatic progress against hunger and poverty in the United States. Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and many other low-income countries have made such progress—if they can do it, there is absolutely no reason we can’t do it right here in the wealthiest country in the world.
Last week, I spoke about the need for a strong safety net with food stamps/SNAP as its center of gravity. This week I want to share what the report has to say about jobs. The 2014 Hunger Report argues that the most important thing we can do to end hunger in America is to reach full employment—so that everyone who can work and wants to is able to find a job.
Full employment is step one of the report’s jobs agenda. Step two is to improve job quality, primarily by boosting the minimum wage until it is a living wage, and by making it possible for parents to balance their work and family responsibilities—for example, by making paid sick leave, flexible scheduling, and high quality child care available to all workers.
Achieving full employment is possible if the federal government takes meaningful steps to stimulate demand. Unemployment is high for one simple reason—a lack of demand. Prior to the Great Recession, which started in 2007, a housing bubble was the main source of demand in the economy. Prior to that it was a stock bubble—recall the dot.com era? The economy hasn’t had a sustainable model of growth for nearly two decades now, but we know that one is possible. First, let’s look at a chart.
This is the most important chart in the 2014 Hunger Report. It shows the close relationship between the unemployment rate and the federal budget deficit. The blue line is the unemployment rate and the yellow line is the size of the federal deficit as a share of Gross Domestic Product. I prepared this chart using tools that are available to anyone on the Federal Reserve’s Economic Data (FRED) website.
I’m drawing attention to this chart because, presumably, the main reason federal lawmakers are resisting spending government resources to reduce unemployment is because doing so will raise the budget deficit. That may be true in the short run. However, this chart very clearly refutes that argument over the medium or long run. The chart shows that bringing down the unemployment rate, by whatever means necessary, will reduce the federal deficit. Why? Because when more people are working, they have more money to spend, which in turn creates jobs and leads to increased tax revenue to replenish government coffers.
In a well-functioning economy, the private sector would be leading the way by investing its own resources in job creation. But we don’t have a well-functioning economy, mainly because we haven’t had an economy based on a sustainable model of growth since before the housing and stock bubbles of the past two decades. We’ve got to start building things that produce sustainable value again.
The 2014 Hunger Report calls for government to invest in revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure, both physical and human. Physical infrastructure includes roads, bridges, transportation systems, and the like. These are public goods. The private sector on its own has very little incentive to invest in these areas, so government investments wouldn’t be crowding out the private sector. In fact, only the federal government can provide sufficient seed capital and then leverage the private sector’s talent for technical innovation.
To bring American infrastructure into the twenty-first century, according to the Society of Civil Engineers, we need an infusion of more than $3 trillion. Revitalizing the nation’s worn and decrepit physical infrastructure (even to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars) would create millions of construction and manufacturing jobs right there and shave entire percentage points off the unemployment rate.
“Investing in human infrastructure” means boosting the professions that help build the human capital we need to continue to innovate and develop the technologies that enable our workers to compete in a global economy. These are our teachers, healthcare professionals, and especially the caregivers who make it possible for families to manage their work and family responsibilities.
This is the thrust of the 2014 Hunger Report’s jobs agenda. Next week I will talk more about how ending hunger in America also depends on how we address the circumstances of marginalized populations, such as ex-offenders, low-income elderly people, and disabled people.
In a survey of over 800,000 people globally, access to nutritous food ranked among the most frequently mentioned development challenges. (Source: World We Want, A Million Voices report)
Since last year, leadership at the United Nations has been working very hard to find out what development issues matter most to ordinary people around the world. The process of developing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 has been criticized as not inclusive; the U.N. wants things to be different as the world sets successor development goals for the period after December 2015, the deadline for the MDGs.
So they’ve set out to poll everyday people the world over about their priority issues -- and last week they were proud to report that they’ve heard one million voices. And it turns out people had a lot to say.
The MDGs were created to drive improvement in the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people -- and they have. More progress was made against hunger and poverty in the 2000s than during any other decade in history. But the exclusive group of officials from donor countries and international organizations that came up with the MDGs largely overlooked a valuable resource -- arguably the most authoritative source -- on how to overcome poverty: poor people themselves. You can read more about the MDG process and its implications in the 2013 Hunger Report.
The World We Want 2015 effort reached its one million voices through a combination of 88 open national consultations, 11 thematic dialogues, and an online global survey amplified by social media. The essential question put to global citizens: “What issues matter most to you?” Here’s a brief look at some of the main ideas expressed:
- Top issues: Education, health care, government accountability, better job opportunities;
- Top values: Universal human rights, equality, justice, and security (underpinned by more accountable governments);
- The urgency of improving people’s lives today;
- Concern about growing inequalities (e.g., income, wealth, access to education);
- The interconnectedness of issues and the need for a holistic, sustainable set of solutions;
- The need for data collection methods that measure progress more accurately.
Although The World We Want is particularly focused on hearing from people in developing nations, who are most urgently affected by development problems, it is intended to collect opinions globally and to include a wide spectrum of views. Americans are not yet well represented in the results – only 26,000 of the first million respondents are from the United States. But people here have more reason than ever to be concerned about “the world we want” – and the country we want. During the Great Recession, hunger in the United States grew by almost 40 percent, and it has barely budged since the recession’s official end nearly four years ago. Today, one in six Americans struggles to put food on the table.
The World We Want reminds us that most people around the world want the same things: quality education, jobs, health care, and yes, food. And we’ve learned from the MDG experience that when we set goals whose progress can be measured, we can accomplish more in less time. That’s why more Americans need to speak up about the issues we care about and press our elected leaders to adopt and carry out realistic plans to solve our most critical problems.
The 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, will be released in less than three weeks here in Washington, DC. Using lessons from the world’s experiences with the MDGs, it lays out a feasible plan for the United States to confront our high levels of inequality, unemployment, and poverty directly and to end hunger in this country by 2030.
If you haven’t yet, take the time to tell the U.N. about the world you want. We’ll keep you posted on the 2014 Hunger Report release here on Institute Notes.
Posted by Bread on November 06, 2013 in Africa, Agriculture, Asia, Assets for the Poor, Development Assistance, Economic Development, Food Aid, Food Prices, Foreign Aid Reform, Global Hunger, Good Governance, Hunger Report, Inequality, Latin America, Malnutrition, Maternal and Child Nutrition, Millennium Challenge Account, Millennium Development Goals, Religion and Hunger, Trade, U.S. Hunger | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Today is Halloween, but the real scare comes tomorrow, November 1. That’s when the additional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits that were included in the 2009 Recovery Act run out. Every household that receives food stamp/SNAP benefits will be affected – about 48 million people. For a family of three, the reduction in benefits means a loss of roughly 16 meals per month.
This will play out in predictable ways. Parents will cut back on meals first to spare their children from going without. Nationally, the food insecurity rate for children is 21.5 percent, and in some states, it climbs to 30 percent. There is only so much cutting back that parents can do. Hunger and food insecurity rates for both children and adults will increase – unless the economy improves more quickly than it has since the recession officially ended, more than four years ago now.
The loss of the additional SNAP benefits in the Recovery Act dovetails with another imminent threat to families who participate in SNAP. The Senate and the House of Representatives are negotiating a new U.S. farm bill. Cuts to food stamps are the top item of business. If many members of the House have their way, millions of people will be thrown out of the program. The House is pushing for work requirements – which may sound like a good idea, except that millions of people who need SNAP aren’t working because they can’t find jobs. Presently there are three job seekers for every job available. The percentage of people unemployed for six months or more hasn’t been this high since the depths of the Great Depression in the 1930s.
Last week, my colleague Derek Schwabe previewed the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, whose release is coming up on November 25. It is possible to end hunger in our country, but not in this economy or with this Congress. This Congress doesn’t seem to understand that when jobs are scarce, the country needs a safety net that is strong enough and broad enough to keep people from falling into the void. Most of the 2014 Hunger Report is focused on creating jobs and improving job quality. I’ll say more next week about the jobs agenda in the report, but since this seems to be a moment of reckoning for SNAP, I wanted to use this blog post to talk about the program and about the safety net more generally.
While working on the 2014 Hunger Report, I had a chance to speak with a number of people who rely on food stamps/SNAP and other forms of government assistance to supplement their low incomes. One of these was 87-year-old Lucy Jeffers. Ms. Jeffers lives in a subsidized housing complex in Takoma Park, Maryland, a town where I lived for more than 10 years. I spoke with her earlier this year, not long after the first year of across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending -- known as sequestration – went into effect.
A widow living alone, Ms. Jeffers receives just $30 per month in food stamp benefits. Sequestration did not affect her SNAP allotment, but it did raise the cost of her rent by $11 per month. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like too much, but Ms. Jeffers lives on less than $800 per month in Social Security, so $11 is a big deal for her. Her rent is fixed, but her food budget is not. Ms. Jeffers told me that the $11 hike in rent was going to make it harder to stretch her SNAP benefits. As it is, by the end of the month her meals consist mostly of plain rice with a little butter and some tea.
Some members of Congress say that food stamps must be cut because government spending is out of control. Is this a valid argument? Hardly. The House seeks to reduce spending on food stamps by $39 billion over 10 years, which amounts to less than 0.5 percent of the federal budget. The difference in the federal budget deficit won’t even be noticed.
In the upcoming Hunger Report, we cite data provided by the Meals on Wheels Association – the organization that provides meals to homebound seniors – showing that for every dollar invested in Meals on Wheels programs, the government saves $50 in healthcare costs. So if the objective is deficit reduction, cutting SNAP or other nutrition assistance is exactly the opposite of what Congress should be doing.
The 2014 Hunger Report makes the case that hunger in the United States can become a thing of the past – if Americans decide that it should be. We back up our argument with solid evidence. But one sure way not to end hunger in America is to move backward by taking food from 48 million low-income people, whether they are elders like Ms. Jeffers, schoolchildren, babies, disabled people, low-wage workers, or “others.”
The world produces lots of food, and on World Food Day (today—October 16) that seems like something we should be celebrating.
The global hunger rate is falling. Indeed, that’s good news. But it’s not because we’re producing more food. We produce more than enough to feed everyone, and have been doing so for some time.
Hunger is rarely about there not being enough food. It’s almost always about being too poor to afford food. The big reason hunger is going down is because economic growth in developing countries means that other opportunities besides subsistence farming have become available, making it possible for these farm families to escape a life of poverty. Subsistence farmers and their families make up the largest share of people who are hungry. When you have no other way to earn enough to buy food, you grow it yourself to eat and try to sell whatever’s left.
There are billions of people around the world who depend on subsistence farming. World Food Day should be a moment to reflect on the people who produce food. The number of farmers who are actually making a decent living may number a few million. I doubt it’s that high.
Instead of romanticizing them, especially subsistence farmers, we may want to stop and reflect on how many would rather be doing something else if they had a choice. It’s not much different in rich countries than in poor. The reason people left agriculture in America was because it was never much of a way to make a living in the first place. Yes, mechanization (more so than policy) meant you had to “get big or get out,” to quote one of our former Secretaries of Agriculture, but people were already leaving the farm in droves decades earlier when more opportunities sprung up thanks to economic growth.
The U.S. food system is much bigger than farmers, and I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of good things to say about it. Ironically, the system we’ve developed to ensure food is cheap and plentiful for most people in the country also contributes a fair share to the hunger in the country.
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