FACE OF AN ECONOMY: Food Stamps and hunger in the United States

A Journal of People report

Food stamps in the United States stand as an indicator of poverty in the old, resourceful, capitalist economy. The mainstream media cannot ignore the burning issue.

On 10/7/17, a Newsweek report said:

“The budget resolution passed by the House on Thursday will push millions of already struggling people off food stamps, leaving the neediest Americans — children and the elderly among them — without food.”

The report said:

“One in six people in America faces hunger, more than almost any other country in the developed world. If this budget goes through, and important programs like SNAP are axed, that number will be on the rise.”

The “Under Trump’s New Budget, If You Don’t Work, You Don’t Eat: Republicans Are Kicking People Off Food Stamps” headlined report said:

“The $4.1-trillion budget will take over $150 billion away from several poverty programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps low-income people keep food on the table, by giving them small amounts of supplemental money to spend on groceries — anywhere from $100 a month to $700 a month for a family of five, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“This budget isn’t the newest problem SNAP has had to face. The number of people on SNAP ebbs and flows with the economy, but only 75 percent of people who are eligible for SNAP actually participate in the program, the website Snap to Health says. And it’s because applying can get really complicated.”

The report by Christianna Silva cited cases:

“Evan Teske, a 26-year-old medical student, needed assistance while he was working for Americorps. After graduating from college in 2014, Americorps assigned him to Focuspoint Family Research Center, which focuses on education from childhood to adulthood. His stipend just wasn’t enough.

“‘So I had to apply for food stamps,’ Teske told Newsweek.

“The application process was pretty confusing, he said, but Americorps helped him apply. Then, after about a year and a half, he was taken off.

“‘I got taken off by the government against my will because every six months I had to update my paperwork so they could see how much they were giving me,’ Teske said. ‘And at one point, when food stamps and a stipend still wasn’t quite enough, I had help from my parents and family members to help me out in a pinch. When I put that down in the updated documents, they didn’t call it an income, but they said it was extra. So they cut me off.’

“Teske worked for Americorps for the next six months and then moved to New Mexico for medical school. He said SNAP and food stamps made his life more livable.

“Teske was taken off food stamps because his family helped him when he was needing a bit more. If Trump’s budget proposal passes the Senate, as it has already passed the House, many more people will be bumped off SNAP — and a lot of them won’t have the familial safety net that Teske did.”

The report said:

“‘SNAP is the first line of defense against hunger in the U.S.,’ Ellen Vollinger, the legal director who directs SNAP work at the Food Research and Action Center, told Newsweek. ‘It’s the one program that’s available all over the country to serve people who need food. It’s the most accessible and available to people.’”

The Newsweek report said:

“But lately, for two big reasons, fewer people have been taking advantage of SNAP. First of all, the economy is doing better, which means fewer people are struggling with poverty and fewer people need the program.

“In 2009, about 32 million people received SNAP benefits. The number increased during the great recession to an annual high of 47.6 million in 2013. Then, as the economy began to improve, it was down to 43 million three years later. And it continues to show. From April 2015 to April 2016, it was all the way down by 1.9 million participants.

“The second reason, however, is that some states are cutting corners by making it more difficult to apply for SNAP so they make more room in their budget.

It said:

“‘A lot of people don’t know that they’re eligible,’ Ginger Zielinskie, president and CEO of Benefits Data Trust, a company that connects people with the services they need, told Newsweek. ‘The first barrier is awareness. … It can be a really complicated application process.’

“Moreover, some state laws don’t allow people to stay on SNAP for longer than a few months unless they have jobs, are training for jobs or are doing community service. But in times of economic stress, there aren’t always jobs available for them.”

The report cited the following example:

“Devon Bracher, who graduated from Vanderbilt with an engineering degree and was living with her two sisters in Portland, Oregon, when she applied to get on SNAP after not being able to find a job.

“‘Technically, my residency was in Virginia, but all my work experience was in Tennessee,’ Bracher told Newsweek. ‘I didn’t have a job, I was looking for jobs. This was my first year after graduating. That was part of what’s complicated. I wasn’t an Oregon resident, but I didn’t have an official job in Virginia. Virginia told me to apply to Tennessee.’

“So Bracher went through the online application for SNAP. But the system had her call a SNAP representative because she wasn’t a Tennessee resident.

“‘I probably called maybe like five different times and the line was always busy,’ Bracher said. Eventually, she just gave up.

“‘I benefitted a lot from being able to live with family,’ Bracher said. ‘My sisters helped a lot.’

“Not everyone has a family like Bracher’s, and if the proposed cuts to SNAP make its way through, the states will be responsible to keep families from starving.”

The report added:

“In Alabama, for instance, the number of able-bodied people on SNAP has dropped from around 5,000 to 8,000. Most of it is because of the regulations states are forced to place on the benefits so that they can make their budget, a trend that’s seen all over the U.S.

“Californians have concerns people who need programs like SNAP won’t be able to access them under Trump’s new budget, according to Jared Call from California Food Policy Advocates.

“‘We try to think of people first, but this particular [budget proposal] … would really seek to shift a substantial share to the states or propose penalties to put states on the hook and that’s just not something that state budgets are prepared to absorb,’ he told Newsweek.

“‘California would go down $1.8 billion to just keep even. So you’re faced with cutting other important services or education or other programs or cutting benefit amounts or cutting eligibility,’ Call said. ‘We want SNAP to go to the people who need it, but this proposal does not work that way. There is no way to cut SNAP without impacting benefit levels or eligibility. Ninety-four percent of these funds go directly to benefits, there’s no fat to cut.’”

On 4/10/16, another Newsweek report said:

“Her volunteer title is program assistant, but on Saturday, 23-year-old April Long was basically directing traffic, at the Lutheran Memorial Church in northeast Portland, Ore. The church is home to the Northeast Emergency Food Program, one of 950 food pantries statewide, and partly because it’s open to any needy person regardless of where they might live, it was slammed.

“‘Number 6!’ Long called out to a church basement full of mostly elderly visitors, who’d drawn tickets for a bimonthly shopping trip that provides about a week and a half’s worth of food for an average family. ‘OK, take a seat, eat some snacks, and you’ll start shopping soon enough.’

“Long’s client joined a row of others waiting for their turn at the pantry’s offerings, as dozens more sat in a nearby room anticipating their numbers to be called.

“The wait, at this and thousands of other pantries across the country, is about to get longer. New restrictions in the federally funded food stamp program have begun affecting hundreds of thousands of needy families throughout America, as revived rules designed to incentivize people looking for work result in the loss of benefits for 500,000 to 1 million people in 21 states. The Department of Agriculture program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, implemented a rule Jan. 1 that reinstates a three-month time limit for those receiving benefits who don’t have children or a disability and haven’t found a minimum 20-hour-a-week job, a requirement that was previously suspended thanks to recession-induced unemployment levels.”

The “Food Stamp Cutbacks Hit Needy, Pantries Across U.S.” headlined report said:

“Mississippi Republican Governor Phil Bryant chose not to extend the waiver of the work requirement. ‘We want people to go to work in Mississippi,’ says Bryant. ‘We want these individuals to get a good job and live the American dream, not just be dependent on the federal government.’

“For many Americans, the three-month deadline came April 1.

“‘We can only serve people so much food,’ says Travis Niemann, program manager at the Portland pantry. ‘Right now it’s SNAP changes, before that it was the housing crisis.’”

The report by Winston Ross said:

“Food banks across the country are expecting an uptick in demand, as clients lose their benefits. The timing is particularly bad in states such as Florida, where the tourist season and the temporary jobs associated it with it draw to a close.

“‘Shortly, we’ll have kids out of school, and families who rely on school lunch are going to be facing that pinch as well,’ Richard LeBer, president and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida, tells Newsweek. And there’s no way to keep up with the hole the SNAP cutbacks will leave. ‘If you added up all the food banks in the country and put all their food together, it’s not efficient to meet the need,’ LeBer says. ‘The SNAP program dwarfs the combined capacity of the food bank network. We’re doing our best to be a stopgap.’

“In states such as Oregon, some counties are exempt from the rules thanks to high unemployment. Only two of the state’s 36 counties have a low enough unemployment rate to be affected by the changes. But in others, like in Missouri, lawmakers passed a bill that prevents its counties from seeking the waiver. The state legislature overrode a governor’s veto last year to enact Senate Bill 24, which ‘tied our own hands,’ Jeannette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri tells Newsweek. ‘There’s a belief here that somehow punishment works,’ Oxford said, that by punishing families receiving benefits, they’ll be more inspired to find a job. ‘Hunger just doesn’t achieve anything good. Our food pantries are already stressed. Adding this on top of it will be a real challenge.’

The report said:

“The SNAP changes won’t help anyone, Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, tells Newsweek.

“‘It’s not just a cruel policy, it’s a stupid policy,’ she said.

“‘It’s premised on the idea that somehow making jobless people hungrier is going to help them find work faster. What it’s really going to do is push hundreds of thousands, maybe millions looking for work into deeper hardship, and for no good reason.’”

On 10/3/17, another Newsweek report said:

“The governor of Puerto Rico has claimed the Trump administration turned down a request that food stamps be made available for use in fast-food restaurants and in other places that serve prepared hot meals, amid power cuts and food shortages on the island.”

The “Hurricane Maria: USDA Waives Food Stamp Restriction in Puerto Rico, Spokesperson Says” headlined report said:

“Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria several weeks ago, leaving many of its inhabitants without running water or electricity — making it extremely difficult to prepare meals.

“Island officials had requested that the U.S. federal government permit food stamps — on which almost 40 percent of Puerto Rico’s population, (or 1.3 million people), relies — to be used to purchase hot meals or in fast-food restaurants; a request the island’s governor said on Tuesday had been denied.

“But the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this was not the case, sharing with Newsweek a letter that showed they had approved the waiver on September 30, which permitted the stamps to be used for hot food in supermarkets or for 20 percent of the value of the card to be withdrawn in cash for use in fast food outlets.

“A department spokesperson said in a statement sent to Newsweek that the cards for Puerto Rico were different from those issued in the continental U.S. and therefore the waiver had allowed for cash withdrawal, which had not been the case in Florida and Texas following the hurricanes that hit the states.

“‘Under normal circumstances, hot foods and hot foods ready for immediate consumption cannot be purchased using SNAP benefits, but in conditions following a disaster, USDA often waives the restriction,’ the spokesperson said.

“‘This change temporarily allows SNAP benefits to be used to purchase hot foods at local SNAP-authorized retailers. (Because part of Puerto Rico’s NAP benefit is provided in cash, that portion can be used for hot foods at any retail outlet),’ she added.”

The report by Harriet Sinclair said:

“Puerto Ricans dependant on food stamps are also struggling because supermarkets that have lost power are unable to process food stamp cards, thus rendering the cards useless.

“The governor, speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, …also explained that there had been problems distributing the emergency supplies sent to Puerto Rico.

“‘We have delivered food and water, and it hasn’t gotten to some people,’ Rosselló explained.

“‘They didn’t listen, couldn’t hear, the information didn’t get to them,’ he continued.

“‘I recognize there are still people that might not have gotten those resources.’”

These reports show a face of the economy – hunger, and issues related to this. There are issues of budget, and law, legal provisions, information and awareness. Access – capacity and arrangement to access – is also an issue. The issues of economy and politics connect all the related issues.

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