"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
I've talked about my mom before, a waitress for the majority of her life, and my father a maintenance man at a hotel. We were a part of the working poor. My parents just making enough money to barely get by, there were times when making sure the water didn’t get shut-off was more important than making sure there was food in the pantry. Food stamps then were paper and came in booklets and local churches were the ones who handed out food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Today according to the Congressional Budget Office report, 48 million Americans rely upon food stamps to make up some portion of what they need to feed their families. These people are the poor and working poor, either living in poverty or on the verge. This group includes single moms, recent college graduates, senior citizens, veterans, and active duty members of the military.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program, more formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It is very likely this bill won't pass the Senate but it should wake you up to know that there are people, those decision makers I've talked about, that truly don't understand what it means to be poor and what it means to know that you are unable to feed yourself and your kids. This cut and any other like it will cause additional stress on the network of food banks across America that are already struggling to keep their shelves stocked. The men and women in Washington cite fraud, waste, abuse, and dependency, especially the dependency, we are creating as reason to cut the $40 billion from the program.
This is the same argument and conversation that has been said ad nauseum since Ronald Reagan was President. I believe we need to change the conversation. In fact, I believe we need to take this conversation one step further and talk about how we work towards reducing reliance on food stamps by transforming the program to one that not only continues to help those most vulnerable but provides a source of job training for them as well. It is time that we end the age old argument of those on the left that say spend more and those on the right that say cut people off and let them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Currently we rely on the food stamp program, food banks, charity, but if we transform this program we will not only reduce fraud, waste, abuse, but reduce the stress on local food banks and above all reduce dependency.
Food banks and pantries will restructure into a Network for Community Nutrition (NCN) and become the hub for those on food assistance to purchase fresh and local food where available, in their community. The USDA who currently manages SNAP will provide a subsidy to individual states to fund the Network for Community Nutrition. Each community will have an NCN to meet the nutritional needs of those locally that need assistance.
The NCN will be staffed by a collaboration of employees of the State in which they operate as well by people who are out of work. While working at the NCN they will learn new job skills, earn a wage, and reduce their dependence on the NCN. To stock the shelves, each NCN will work with local grocery stores and farmer’s markets to purchase foods that meet established guidelines for health and nutrition such as whole grains, reduced fat dairy products, meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This action reduces the amount of paperwork and regulations on local businesses while still allowing them to compete for the resources offered by the current system.
Qualification standards for families in need will be reevaluated based upon family size, income as well as the debts incurred by each family. The qualification standards will change to ensure each family is receiving the correct amount of benefit so that falsification of application data decreases. Recipients will be issued the electronic benefit card with the qualified dollar amount allotted each month to use to purchase the food items from the NCN.
People of this country have demonstrated a decreasing approval of their politicians in Washington. Washington politicians have demonstrated an unwillingness to let go of partisan political ground. As a result, we continue to find ourselves deficient in policy and unfortunately find a growing number of families in this instance with a deficient source of nutritional food.
The only way to correct this precarious course is by speaking up and offering change, and doing it in a way that applies smart pressure directly to the source of hemorrhaging intelligence. I am offering mine up to you for our conversation. So if you have ideas too, speak up. But don’t stop there.
Look around your community and seek out the decision makers, the influential-types and anyone else you can recruit, and be willing to walk up to them and engage them in a respectful discussion. Heck, you can even take my ideas and use them as your own. I don’t care because I know in the end it will help us make change happen, and in this instance, not only reduce poverty related dependencies, but the worry of even having to be poverty dependent at all.
*Originally posted on A Broad Sense on September 20, 2013.