Yesterday's Wall Street Journal contained an opinion piece arguing it is a myth that Americans are starving and aid should be cut. Unfortunately, the piece is nothing more than politically biased grandstanding at the expense of poor children and their families. Nonetheless, I feel it necessary to address the claims contained within.
Food Insecurity Exists
Let's start with the misleading and inflammatory title: The Myth of Starving Americans. Starving is generally defined as, "To die or perish from lack of food or nourishment." No one in this country is starving. Those of us who fight hunger will not tell you that people in the United States are starving. The United States is not, thank goodness, Somalia or many other parts of the world. What we are, however, is a country where over 48 million Americans face food insecurity: missing meals; inadequate access to healthy food; insufficient calories consumed to lead a productive life. Those in need of food are just like me and you--they are our neighbors; college students; the working poor.
The WSJ argues that hunger is not truly a problem in this country because, "According to the Census Bureau, 96% of parents classified as poor said their children were never hungry." Well, given that nonprofits like Feeding America serve 1 in 6 people through their network of food banks, I am happy to hear that the poor report that their children are never hungry--it means the efforts are working. Also consider: this figure is self-reported; if you were a poor parent who knew your child was missing meals, would you necessarily admit to a census taker that your child was hungry? Love and pride may influence your answer--so let's take that 96% response with a grain of salt.
And what about that 4% that responded yes, their children were hungry--are we to discount them and their needs? What number of children is high enough to warrant aid by the government and nonprofits? Must we keep children hungry as evidence that the poor need food?
Why are we hesitant to believe that people in America need food? Are we too proud? Do we fear our taxes will increase? As this study sets forth, "Food insecurity, even at the least severe household levels, has emerged as a highly prevalent risk to the growth, health, cognitive and behavioral potential of America's poor and near poor children." This is an issue that impacts us all--and not just from a moral perspective that we should not permit children to go hungry--but from a practical and financial aspect. Children who face food insecurity do not perform as well in school, their cognitive abilities suffer and their risk of health issues, including obesity and hospitalization, increases dramatically--costing more money in the long run than the cost of providing healthy food now.
Yes, Fraud Exists
The WSJ argues that fraud is rampant in the food stamp system. I don't know the amount of fraud in the welfare and/or food stamp system. Nor does the WSJ. What I do know is that fraud exists in every program in our country and is committed by individuals at all socio-economic levels. Some wealthy people commit tax fraud; the vast majority do not. Some poor people commit food stamp fraud; the vast majority do not.
The potential that a small amount of fraud exists in any food program is not a legitimate basis to cut or reduce that program. It is a reason to implement better fraud detection and protection systems.
Further, claims by the WSJ that food stamps can be used for almost anything, save liquor, is blatantly false.
Trust Me, People Need Food
The food pantries run by the San Francisco Food Bank are top notch--places where people receive healthy, fresh food in a dignified manner--as I wrote about here. I cannot imagine a better venue for receiving food if one is in need. Despite the high quality of the food and the smiling faces at the pantries, these are still places where you must line up to receive food to help you make it through the week. Imagine it. Put yourself in the shoes of someone in line--someone who has realized, "I'm unable right now to provide food for myself and my children." Trust me, unless you need food, you don't go to a pantry.
And what about children whose parents simply fail to provide food at times, like the children in Appalachia? Does the WSJ really want me to believe there isn't a hunger crisis in the United States?
I've seen too many people in need and have worked with too many individuals and nonprofits whose mission it is to feed people, that I know the WSJ is wrong--people are hungry and people need assistance.
Poor Children Shouldn't be Used as Political Pawns
As I was reading the WSJ piece I kept asking myself, "Why is this being written in such a biased manner?" The last sentence answered my question: "All it takes is the political leadership." Ah, campaign season; this after praising Republicans such as New York's Mayor Bloomberg and Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich.
I try to stay out of the political fray in this blog, as I believe that certain issues do, or at least should, transcend what side of the aisle one sits. Politicizing human rights issues is despicable, whether done by a liberal or a conservative. Ensuring that all children in this country, regardless of their wealth, have access to adequate amounts of healthy food is just that--a human rights issue and one that is too vital to politicize.
What You Can Do
Knowing the facts about hunger in our country and letting others know is one of the most effective things you can do. Most people care deeply about our nation's poor children and want to know the facts and how to help. Supporting your local food bank or Feeding America will impact millions of families. Locally, in San Francisco and Marin counties, you can support the efforts of the San Francisco Food Bank by volunteering, making a monetary donation or giving food.
As always, thank you for reading and be well!