Monday, March 31, 2008

Stamping Out Hunger

The New York Times reports a record number of Americans have registered for food stamps in recent months. As the economy weakens, more and more people will take advantage of this “vital safety net.” On average, those who qualify for the Food Stamps receive about $100 a month per family for food and other essential groceries. Besides that being nearly impossible to keep one person full and healthy, $100 a month for 28 million people adds up fast and doesn't fix the problem.

In times of crisis, post-Katrina for instance, the Congressional Budget Office has seen spikes in regional sign-ups for this program. However this coming year, the CBO estimates that 28 million Americans will be registered and utilizing this program, the most since the program began in the 1960s. This isn’t good by any measure. The Times reports that one in eight Michigan residents receive Food Stamps. One in 10 New Yorkers. The number of people on the rolls in Rhode Island increased by 18% in the last two years and now 8.4% of the population is enrolled in the program.

This mirrors equally disturbing trends in the real wages earned by the bottom fifth of the United States population. As essential goods (food, water, energy) have gone up at least 5% since 1996 in real dollars and real wages have not changed or in many cases gone down, many American families are feeling this economic slow down at the kitchen table.

But here is the kicker. According to Jared Bernstein, director of the Living Standards program at the Economic Policy Institute in DC, the average family income of the folks in this group is $15,500 a year. This isn’t enough for rent in most places, let alone food to feed a family of four. And to make this even more ridiculous the Times reports: “Eligibility [for the program] is determined by a complex formula, but basically recipients must have few assets and incomes below 130 percent of the poverty line, or less than $27,560 for a family of four.”

And $100 bucks a month is going to fix that? I know I live in New York and it cost a fortune to do so, but $27,560 for a family of two is tight in New York, but four? Wow.

We need to take a quick step back and figure out what is going wrong here. We have an economic system that broke. Too much money invested in things that were worthless, too many people with homes they couldn’t afford, too little oversight protecting the American economic supremacy in the world. And now, the former richest country in the world has nearly 10% of its citizens in need of food purchasing assistance.

And the worst part about this situation is that this 10% should really be about 15%. The fact that you must be making less than $27,560 for four people to get help from your government to feed ones family is in direct opposition to Jewish tradition.

The Jewish community really needs to jump on this in the coming budget cycle.

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