I was really moved by an article in The Washington Post (5 November 2011) called “A Hungry Challenge With Food Stamps.”
Last week was the launch of the 2nd nationwide Food Stamp Challenge–“part of an interfaith campaign to raise awareness about America’s poor.”
For one week, Rabbis, Pastors, Imams, and members of Congress (600 people) took part in the program to live on $31.50 a week (or $4.50 per day) for food–the average that an adult gets on the food stamp program.
Intuitively, knowing what food costs these days, it makes no sense!
Even a basic meal from a fast food restaurant costs more than what the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides for a whole day.
The money for food is so meager that participants in the challenge report being overwhelmed by thoughts of food–“When am I going to eat? What am I going to eat?”
According to the USDA, food stamp usage has risen to the highest level ever, with almost 46,000,000 Americans on the program (that’s more than 1 of every 7 people in this country!)
This is up almost 65% from 28,000,000 people in 2008–just 3 years ago.
With the food stamp program, while better than getting no help at all, people are still surviving on limited types of food and meager portions of things such as lentils, cornflakes, eggs, and so on.
It is frightening and humbling to think that any one of us–or our families–could be in that situation–wondering where our next meal is coming from.
I remember as a kid, before the SNAP program issued the food assistance on debit-like cards, seeing people in the supermarket actually tearing off and handing stamps to the cashier–they never seemed to have enough and invariably had to put back groceries. They were noticeably embarrassed, self-conscious, and fearful–often holding children in their arms or by the hand as they tried to work the math of feeding them all with what was obviously not enough.
While I have not participated in such a program as the Food Stamp Challenge, I am awed by those who take the time and effort to see what such hunger feels like and to learn the lessons of empathy, social justice, and charity.
As we enter the last few weeks of deliberation by the Deficit Panel Super Committee, I am afraid at what $4,000,000,000,000 (trillion) in cuts looks like to our nation and how the very real pain coming will be distributed.
With a nation already feeling squeezed by lost jobs, sunken housing values, near zero interest rates on fixed income investments, an rickety stock market, and global economic challenges from abroad, I wonder how our nation can take the deep cuts that we must without going into economic cardiac arrest.
Yet, Moodys and Fitch are waiting in the wings to downgrade our debt, if we do not embrace the tough love or if we fudge the numbers rather the do what our long-term economic health demands.
I pray that G-d helps us through this challenging period for our country and that the people who are hungry today and those that may suffer tomorrow are spared by the almighty in his everlasting mercy.