House farm bill would leave millions hungry
By Emily Cox on May 26, 2013
The most recent version of the 2013 Farm Bill being debated in Congress effectively takes food out of the mouths of millions of people, at least half of them children.
The House Committee on Agriculture (our own Rep. Bob Goodlatte is the vice chair of the committee) passed their version of the Farm Bill on May 16 with huge cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Aid Program. It would end benefits for as many as 3 million Americans and reduce benefits for more than 850,000 households. It would eliminate free school lunches for as many as 210,000 children. It would also eliminate or reduce states’ ability to automatically register people for SNAP when they apply for heating assistance or other government benefits, making it harder for those in need to access benefits.
My literary arsenal doesn’t include enough ugly words for the outrage this causes me.
Let’s clear up a few common misconceptions. Throw out the image of lazy people sitting at home watching soap operas while eating on the government dole. Statistics from the mid-2000s show that more than half of the people who enrolled in SNAP for the first time stayed on the program for less than a year, leaving the program when their need had passed. And many war veterans depend on food stamps to feed their families as they recover from debilitating injuries.
Another misconception is that churches and other houses of worship can feed the hungry without federal programs. According to statistics from Bread for the World compiled for the 2010 Farm Bill, “every congregation in the United States would need to spend $50,000 a year for the next 10 years to feed the people who would be affected by proposed cuts to federal food programs.” This comes at a time of shrinking church attendance and donations. The many churches running food pantries are stretched beyond capacity. For every bag of food provided by a church food pantry, the federal government provides 23 bags of food assistance.
Are there really hungry people in America where obesity is a national epidemic? Food insecurity is alarmingly high. One in six Americans is hungry. According to Feeding America, in 2011, more than 50 million Americans were food insecure, meaning that an individual or household is experiencing reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet and/or disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake. People who are obese can be food insecure, as their diet may consist of calorically dense yet nutritionally poor foods such as convenience or highly processed foods. Fresh, healthy foods are more expensive and thereby inaccessible in sufficient quantities for those in poverty.
Being poor is hard work. Rent, energy and food costs are all on the rise. Employment and wages are stagnant. Imagine you are trying to keep up with your bills and find employment. You might not own a car. Maybe you share a car with a spouse or other family member. Getting to appointments to apply for benefits or visiting a food pantry takes a great deal of time and effort. Many organizations are only open during regular business hours, when you are likely working. Taking time off work, finding transportation and keeping up with paperwork requirements are all major challenges for people who are already struggling to keep a foothold on a decent life.
When we take benefits from millions of people, benefits that allow them to feed their children and have money to pay their bills, we jeopardize our entire society. If we fail to feed our children adequately, they will be more likely to miss school for illness, and parents will be more likely to miss work and risk losing jobs that allow them to have a roof over their heads.
By providing food and nutrition assistance, we actually benefit our economy, as the Trust for America’s Health stated in a recent press release: “SNAP and other nutrition assistance programs help families directly, but they also provide economic benefits to communities. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research has found that every $5 of federal SNAP benefits generates nearly twice that in economic activity.”
Reducing the national deficit on the backs of the poor is an unconscionable act and a political and economic fallacy. It is time to demand better from our representatives in Congress. We must insist that in a civilized society, helping one another is not only the responsibility of every individual, but should also be at the forefront of government policy and action. Enough is enough.
Please write to Rep. Goodlatte today. Debate is ongoing about the Farm Bill; decisions will be made soon. Make your voice heard.
To learn more about hunger in America, attend a screening and discussion of the film “A Place at the Table” at the Visulite 7-9 p.m. this Thursday. Admission is free, with an offering for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.