Written by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All
Cross-posted on Daily Kos. Read original post here.
Last year, after having a baby, I moved back to the town where I grew up—a poor, polluted part of the Bay Area. One of the most striking things about coming home has been the experience of living in a place where access to wholesome food and healthy lifestyle choices is severely limited. That would be bad enough on its own. But now, to add insult to injury, our leaders in Washington, D.C. are kicking low-income folks while they’re down.
When the House voted to slash food stamp benefits (now known as SNAP) by $40 billion last month, there was no mistaking their tone: Americans who are hungry should be ashamed.
There has been an alarming increase in the number of Americans who rely on food stamps—it jumped from 26 million in 2007 to 48 million today. That should be a red flag—not that people are taking advantage of the system, as conservatives seem to think—but that something’s very wrong with our economy. After all, most of those receiving food stamps are children and the elderly. And it’s not like they’re feasting—the average benefit in 2012 worked out to $4.45 a day.
The assault on food stamps would be appalling enough on its own. But the truth is, it’s just the latest in a series of escalating attacks on the most vulnerable among us. From the crusade against the Affordable Healthcare Act and Medicare to efforts to shrink Social Security, what we’re seeing in Congress these days looks a lot like a war on the poor.
Even their attacks on solutions to climate change and pollution hit low-income folks hard. With crops under increasing threat from drought and disasters, we’re already seeing a spike in food prices. And the more economically stressed our communities are, the more trouble they have preparing, surviving, and recovering from severe weather and storms. Just look at what happened with Katrina.
We’re supposed to have recovered from the Great Recession, but when I look around my hometown, I don’t see things getting easier. For most of us, they’re not. It’s really just the wealthiest who have reaped the benefits of recovery—the top one percent took home more than half our country’s entire income last year. As they’ve ridden the wave of bailouts back to the top, they haven’t turned their backs on the poor; they’ve turned their cannons on them. As though they could defend the ground they’ve gained by humiliating those who have the least.
A recent Washington Post-Miller Center Poll shows a disturbing spike in economic insecurity among Americans. Two-thirds of those polled say they worry about covering their family’s basic living expenses—compared with less than half of respondents four decade ago. More than six out of ten are worried about losing their jobs—a greater number than were worried in 1975, at the tail end of a harsh recession.
At a time like this, when so many people are struggling to get by, you’d think our leaders in Congress would be doing everything possible to help. Instead, they’re attempting to lay shame on those in need—proposing mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients and accusing them of laziness—despite the fact that most of those who benefit are children. It’s not just mean spirited. It’s shortsighted. And it doesn’t reflect the values that most of us share.
Most of the people I know wouldn’t hesitate to help a neighbor in need. I’m deeply inspired by the local leaders I see working to fight hunger and bring healthy food to their communities. People like Green For All Fellow Hakim Cunningham, who helps build urban gardens to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income Bostonians. Or Dana Frasz, whose Oakland organization, Food Shift, works to reduce food waste and bring healthy meals to hungry residents. Or Diana Teran, who, after recognizing the need for healthy food options in her hometown of Tucson, started her own vegan food company, La Tuana Tortillas—and is now creating jobs for others.
Thousands of Americans are working in their communities every day to solve the problems of hunger and lack of access to healthy food. These folks are heroes, and our leaders in Congress should take a cue from them.
Instead of attacking the most vulnerable among us, we need to band together to find lasting solutions to hunger and poverty. And we can start by bringing back full food stamp benefits for the people who desperately need them.