The White House announced today that the President’s new budget calls for roughly $2.9 trillion in cuts to essential anti-poverty and nutrition programs over the next 10 years that will directly affect the ability of millions of struggling families, low-income workers, children, elderly and disabled Americans to meet their basic needs of affordable health care, accessible education and basic access to nutritious food.
The Washington Post estimates that cuts in programs like Medicaid and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) would directly affect up to one fifth of all Americans. Funding for SNAP, which helps 44 million Americans get the nutritious food they need to live, work and thrive would be cut by more than $193 billion over 10 years, over a 25% reduction. It might be easy for members of Congress or those of us glancing at the evening news to see these big numbers represented in pie charts that promise a balanced budget, and fail to see the 44 million Americans -- our neighbors, friends, co-workers and relatives – whose safety net will be severely compromised or eliminated. In fact, the vast majority of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and working families who simply don’t make enough to meet their basic needs. The budget doesn’t stop there, but calls for cuts for college tuition, Medicaid, rental assistance, job training, and income assistance to poor seniors and people with disabilities.
The facade that President Trump and his administration are advocates for working class and vulnerable Americans has been completely shattered by this proposal. The false narrative that these essential programs create “dependency” is not only inaccurate, but its damaging to the millions of folks struggling to make ends meet.
After 42 years of working with community-based organizations across the country and answering countless Hotline calls from families in immediate need of food, we at WhyHunger know that these cuts will have real, lasting effects on some of the most vulnerable and hardworking Americans for this generation and the next.
If this budget were designed to help anyone except the 1%, it would be filled with programs to support living wage jobs, affordable education and healthcare, universal free school meals, and incentives to build local food and farm economies. It would roll back tax breaks and other incentives that lead to greater consolidation of wealth in the food system and a disregard for the stewardship of the natural resources necessary to nourish us all and cool the planet. It would invest in opportunities for all Americans to live healthy, productive and dignified lives and help rebuild communities most affected by hunger and poverty.
We must stand together to demand that our representatives in Congress reject this proposed budget that hurts our most vulnerable communities and further divides our nation. And we must come together to develop and implement a shared road map for a future that protects children and seniors; ensures the dignity and health of workers; and invests directly in communities’ renewal the country over.
We call on you to join WhyHunger in speaking out! Contact your Member of Congress, write a letter to your editor, share your thoughts on social media and talk with your friends and family about the type of budget, and type of world, you want to see.
This post was updated 5.25
This month the federal government released two reports which show success as well as challenges for the food justice movement. Real impact has been made in reducing food insecurity and poverty over the past two years. But pre-existing food and economic injustice remains and despite improvements most Americans are poorer and hungrier than before the recession. These recent gains are being lauded as the work of a strengthening economy, but it isn’t just the shifting of markets and decisions of politicians that brought this about. Grassroots organizations, progressive allies and social movements have been working for years to change our food system and get at the root of hunger and poverty.
The first report, released by the USDA on September 7th showed that 42.2 million Americans were food insecure, a shift from 15.4 percent of U.S. households to 13.4 percent between 2015 and 2014. The number of children living in food insecure households dropped to 13.1 million, a decrease from 20.9 percent to 17.9 percent – still disappointingly high, but actually lower than before the recession. An even more thorough economic report was performed by the U.S. Census Bureau and released on September 13th. It shows that after years of economic stagnation, there is finally real growth in incomes and declines in poverty. For example, the median household income climbed 5.2 percent between 2014 and 2015 to $56,516. The poverty rate dropped from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent, the largest single year decrease since the Census Bureau started recording such data. Even better, these recent income gains largely went to people on the bottom half of the economy – the lowest fifth saw their income grow 6.3 percent while the upper fifth’s grew only 4.1 percent. The benefits of this current economic surge were more equitable than those in the past - Black and Hispanic households saw some of the largest increases in income.
That’s the good news.
But median income still remains lower than it was in 2007, before the recession. Similarly, food insecurity was at 11.1 percent prior to the recession, compared to the current 13.4 percent. One in seven Americans are still struggling to get enough food to eat. Urban areas overwhelmingly benefitted from the income gains and drop in food insecurity, while rural areas saw almost no increase in median income and still have significantly higher rates of hunger. Populations that historically have faced disproportionate rates of hunger still do: the rise in median income did not reduce the gender gap in any meaningful way, and both poverty and food insecurity remain significantly higher among Black and Hispanic households, even with the recent gains. In comparison with past years of similar economic growth and low unemployment, the poverty rate is strikingly high. Income inequality remains a huge barrier, with the top 5 percent holding on to a 21.8 percent share of national income and an even larger share of national net wealth. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and other economists have cautioned that another recession may be near, and it would be the most vulnerable – poor people, women, and people of color – who will see their gains disappear first.
What led to these successes?
First, the economy is doing better than it has been for years. Most economists agree these positive effects are the result of wage growth and the unemployment rate falling between 2014 and 2015. Under pressure from progressive activists, labor organizers, and social movements, 25 states implemented or continued minimum wage increases in that time. Throughout the recession, SNAP enrollment increased to support people who found themselves without a job or enough money to put food on the table. As hunger decreased, enrollment in SNAP went down by more than a million people in 2015 – a testament to the fact that these programs serve those who need it and are not widely abused. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was passed in 2010, but was implemented year by year, increased access to free or reduced-price lunch at schools and could be responsible for the historically low rate of child food insecurity.
But we should be wary of letting this good news put us at ease. Instead, these recent successes should compel grassroots organizations, social movements and progressive allies to continue our critical work. Over the past few years more and more local communities have been inspired to take back control of their food system. Creative, grassroots solutions have been implemented by our partners, often literally from the ground up in community farms and urban gardens throughout the country. More and more foundations are following WhyHunger’s lead and shifting their focus from solutions that merely hand out food to those bolstering community support and local organizations. Social movements, like Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter, have brought national attention to the need for a living wage and racial equality. We’ve also seen how real political reform can decrease poverty and food insecurity – and we have to continue holding our politicians accountable to that. But the fact remains that, by most measures we still have not made up ground lost during the recession. And the rewards of economic recovery must be distributed equitably – benefitting those at the bottom half of the economy, women, Black and Hispanic households, and those living in rural areas. The USDA and U.S. Census reports prove that positive change is possible through grassroots action, people power, political will and solidarity. Hopefully, this is the first victory towards a just world where everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food and no one is impoverished.
This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
“It’s the economy stupid.” “End welfare as we know it.”
These two quotes from the era of President Bill Clinton summarize two of what supporters and even many critics say were his two greatest domestic policy accomplishments. The economy certainly improved dramatically during his tenure. The late 90s did “lift all economic boats” including the tiny rowboats of the poor. Unemployment was 7.5 in 1992 the year before Clinton took office and plummeted to 4.0 by the end of his tenure. During that time 23.9 million jobs were created, more living wage jobs than now. The federal deficit which was $290 BILLION in 1992 flipped to a surplus of $236.4 BILLION by 2000. All in all, it is an impressive economic legacy.
AND, President Clinton did “end welfare as we know it.” His best ally in this fight was the Republican Party. At the time that the legislation passed there were 4 million families on the new version of welfare, TANF Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That number has been reduced to some 1.6 million today. Benefits have fallen by 32.5 percent due to inflation and half of those on the program live in only two states, New York and California. Two thirds of all the funds allocated by congress for TANF are spent on non TANF budget items. The money has been block-granted to the states and they decide how to spend it.
At the time of the welfare reform passage the economy was humming and many of the poorest of the poor were able to find jobs. The reform was seen to be a major success for the Clinton Administration. Since then we have seen a very different story. During the deepest bottom of the Great Recession of 2008 the New York Times reported that there were 8 million people whose only income was Food Stamps, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Most people did not even apply for TANF because they knew there was little or no money available in their state. Thankfully, the economy has improved and unemployment has been cut in half but there are still 24.4 million people in deep poverty, making less than half of the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four. There are 7 million children and teens living in deep poverty. The vast majority receive nothing from TANF.
President Clinton vetoed the welfare legislation twice before he signed it. The Republicans threw in severe cuts to Food Stamps that Clinton did not like but, in the end, he signed the legislation. Hillary Clinton encouraged him to sign it. She believed that generous work support programs like Earned Income Tax Credit, free childcare programs, mandated support from absent parents (mostly fathers) and housing support programs added to even low wage job earnings would support a deeply poor family. Many who were involved in the legislation were disappointed but thought it might work as long as the economy was healthy. It has not worked that way for millions of children and their parents.
There has been a good deal of media coverage over the last few weeks about the pending SNAP cuts affecting those the government labels as “Abled-Bodied Adults Without Disabilities,” better known as childless adults who may be struggling to get by and typically aren’t eligible for other forms of public assistance.
This April, 23 states will re-impose a 3 month time-limit on SNAP benefits - formerly Food Stamps - for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults. As a result, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates at least 500,000 to as many as 1 million SNAP recipients will have their benefits cut off in 2016.
This 3 month time limit, originally imposed in 1996 but waived by most states during the recent economic recession, means that unemployed and underemployed adults aged 18-49 who don’t qualify for disability or aren’t raising children will be cut off from SNAP after just 90 days. Starting April 1st, these individuals will no long receive their food assistance benefit, which average just $150 -$170 per month, barely enough to meet the most basic nutritional needs. These are our nation’s poorest of the poor, with average incomes around $2,000 per year.
However, they can continue to receive the assistance if they can secure a full-time job with at least 20 hours of work per week or enroll in the under resourced (and often unavailable) state job training programs.
But that can be easier said than done. This harsh time limit does not take into consideration if someone is working part time, but less than the 20 hour per week required, is actively looking for work but can’t find anything, or is willing to participate in a job training, but there are no programs in their county or there are no open slots. It does not consider if someone is a veteran, or homeless, or an ex-offender or struggling with addiction or mental health issues.
It may be tempting to look at this wave of SNAP cuts as simply a “work requirement” or a system to incentivize “able bodied” folks to work hard and become “deserving” of food assistance, as some of the media coverage will try to convey. But, without mandating that states offer employment or job training opportunities for this at-risk population and/or raise the minimum wage, a 3-month time limit that demands folks who face huge barriers to employment secure full-time work is downright shortsighted. For this population, already struggling on the bottom rungs, the research shows this time limit will simply mean more hunger and hardship.
The nation’s food access organizations, advocacy groups and activists are bracing for yet another wave of Americans slipping through our deteriorating safety net. We cannot stand by and allow hunger in the U.S. to continue to grow. There is the Fight for $15, proposals to boost the earned income tax credit for childless adults and important legislation protecting the right to nutritious food for all that we can and must continue to support.
Watch this video from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to learn more:
Written by Bill Ayres, WhyHunger Co-Founder and Ambassador. This post first appeared in The Huffington Post.
As we prepare for Pope Francis to visit our country what should we expect? Is he just another pope who speaks good words or is he really a radical out to save the environment and bring justice for the poor and oppressed by challenging capitalism and its "dominate technological paradigm."
The word radical means getting to the root cause of a problem. Francis understands that the root cause of hunger is poverty and the root cause of poverty is powerlessness and injustice. He follows the teaching of Jesus who taught his followers that leadership means service, not domination, especially service to the powerless, the poorest of the poor. Many believe "that the problems of hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth." Francis dismantles this myth in his recent encyclical Laudate Si'.
He also states clearly in his encyclical that the root cause of our environmental crisis is our misuse of the goods of the Earth and our role of dominance over nature. He calls for an Ecological Conversion to an Integral Ecology that features a deep openness to awe and wonder. He challenges the "dominate technological paradigm" that bows to the ever expanding and pervasive forces of technology and the media. He says that the technical mind sees nature "as a cold body of facts, as a mere given, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape." The powerful who have this mentality also "consider themselves as more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights."
Francis sees a direct connection between our environmental crisis and the plight of the poor. "The gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest and cause the premature death of many of the poor."
What is his answer to the dual problems of environmental crisis and poverty and hunger? He reaches deep into his faith to say that "God's love is the fundamental moving force in all created things." "Injustice is not invincible." "All it takes is one good person to restore hope." But Francis is also a realist, he knows that real change must come from the bottom up, through the thousands of communities that organize themselves to grow food in a way that is friendly to the environment and to people, not only for profit. They refuse to be powerless.
"It is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity. There is a great variety of small scale food production systems which feed the great majority of the world's peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing."
The National Hunger Hotline 1-866-3 HUNGRY and 1-877-8 HAMBRE (1-866-348-6479 and 1-877-842-6273) refers people in need of emergency food assistance to food pantries, government programs, and model grassroots organizations that work to improve access to healthy, nutritious food, and build self-reliance. Help is available on Monday through Friday from 9am-6pm EST. Hablamos español. The Hotline is funded in part by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
I recently met a very rich man who saw me reading The Price of Inequality by economist Joseph Stieglitz. The rich man asked me what the book is about and I said that it’s about the problem of extreme economic inequality in our country. He asked me what the author thought was the solution. I said higher wages. He was aghast. “Who would pay?” he said. I replied that the employers would have to pay their employees more. He laughed derisively. The conversation went straight downhill from there.
The truth is that American workers are the most productive in the world. US worker productivity increased 80 percent from 1973 to 2011, eight times as much as hourly worker compensation. The average worker is responsible for $63,885 of wealth per year. Yet more than a third of households make less than $30,000 a year. We have the highest percentage of low wage workers in the world--almost 25 percent. The people who bring us our food--farm workers, food processers, restaurant workers and grocery workers--usually make poverty wages. The people who we trust to take care of our children, parents, grandparents and sometimes ourselves when we are sick or disabled; people who work in nursing homes and hospitals; nannies, childcare and Head Start workers--all of these crucial workers are all too often making poverty wages. Fifty percent of personal care workers live in poverty. Most of them are women, and 40 percent of female-headed households live in poverty.
Although we have lost millions of jobs to automation, the computer age, and to countries overseas, most of the remaining low-wage jobs in the US cannot be sent to another country and will not be replaced by a machine. The people doing these jobs have families to support and often have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Most do not have health insurance, sick days or pensions. Few are represented by unions and so they do not dare to challenge their employers when they are treated unfairly or even have wages and tips stolen from them.
There are countless millions more who work in sales and services for companies that have low wage and minimal benefit policies. Most of these companies are highly profitable and say they cannot afford to pay workers more but they pay their CEOs and other high level employees outrageously high salaries even when business goes down.
Raising the minimum wage to ten dollars an hour and indexing it to inflation would be a good first step to repair our economy and help millions of families out of poverty. Enforcement of wage laws and prosecution of wage theft would add billions of hard-earned dollars to the incomes of the lowest earning families. Allowing workers to join or form unions without harassment or unfair dismissal has proven to enrich the lowest paid workers without bankrupting their companies. When will our country foster labor justice and when will labor unions make organizing the poorest workers a priority?
The myth of the “fiscal cliff,” the focus on balancing the federal budget, the frenzy for cutting the budgets for essential services and the hatred of raising taxes on the super-rich all miss the point. We need more federal revenue. One powerful way to raise revenue and grow the economy is to have the people who will actually spend money--the poor and lower middle class--have more money to spend.
Another very rich man--a billionaire, in fact--recently stated that because he is only one person, even though he is a billionaire, he can’t spend his money as fast and as effectively as the same money would be spent by the millions of Americans who are at or near the poverty line. Just one dollar of additional income for a low wage worker creates $1.20 of economic activity. Imagine that: if the Americans most in need had more money to spend--on food, school supplies, bus fare, and all the other essentials--they would spend it, quickly and efficiently, and in the process would create jobs and move the country towards prosperity.
The old saying goes: “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.” American workers are doing their part. Now it is up to employers to do their part and pay their workers a fair wage that will allow them to support their families. Bill Ayres is the co-founder and Executive Director of WhyHunger.
Click here to read more about Workers in the Food System.