Economy > Poverty > Food
Illustration: Thea Brine
The hunger within
In his latest despatches
from an English
Stewart Dakers describes how,
from junk food diets
to chronic illiteracy and
the underclass are trapped
in a near hopeless 'toxic cycle' of
Wednesday January 4, 2006
Illustration: Thea Brine
Dog eat dog
In his latest real life dispatches
from an English housing estate
finds abuse, violence and bullying
— but nothing that hasn’t already been done
by those who rule over us in the
corridors of power
The Guardian Society 1
Illustration: Thea Brine
Where did it all go wrong for Louise?
Once a cheeky, freckle-faced girl,
now a prostitute addicted to crack cocaine - and is still only 23.
Her friend, author Bernard Hare, pieces together her
The Guardian Society
p. 3 Wednesday March 29, 2006
feed the needy
Feeding America USA
grocery / food budget
scavenge for meals
in garbage bins USA
Nutrition Assistance Program SNAP USA
formerly known as food
food stamps (...)
help poor people
pay for their groceries
food stamp program
cartoons > Cagle > Food stamps
people on food stamps
food voucher UK
paperless food stamps
Philip Hammond and the public sector pay cap – cartoon
Sunday 16 July
2017 18.46 BST
food banks UK
food banks, pantries
emergency food pantry
food bank crisis
Christmas food handouts UK
drive-in soup kitchen
left, and her twin sister, Helen Ashe,
in aprons Oprah
Winfrey gave them
when they appeared on her show.
The Love Kitchen
Ellen Turner Dies
Opened Kitchen to Feed the Needy of Knoxville
APRIL 25, 2015
Migrant mother Florence Thompson & children
photographed by Dorothea Lange.
Location: Nipomo, CA, US
Date taken: 1936
Corpus of news articles
Economy > Poverty > Food
Why Can’t We End It?
The New York Times
By PETER EDELMAN
REAGAN famously said, “We fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” With 46
million Americans — 15 percent of the population — now counted as poor, it’s
tempting to think he may have been right.
Look a little deeper and the temptation grows. The lowest percentage in poverty
since we started counting was 11.1 percent in 1973. The rate climbed as high as
15.2 percent in 1983. In 2000, after a spurt of prosperity, it went back down to
11.3 percent, and yet 15 million more people are poor today.
At the same time, we have done a lot that works. From Social Security to food
stamps to the earned-income tax credit and on and on, we have enacted programs
that now keep 40 million people out of poverty. Poverty would be nearly double
what it is now without these measures, according to the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities. To say that “poverty won” is like saying the Clean Air and
Clean Water Acts failed because there is still pollution.
With all of that, why have we not achieved more? Four reasons: An astonishing
number of people work at low-wage jobs. Plus, many more households are headed
now by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income
from the jobs that are typically available. The near disappearance of cash
assistance for low-income mothers and children — i.e., welfare — in much of the
country plays a contributing role, too. And persistent issues of race and gender
mean higher poverty among minorities and families headed by single mothers.
The first thing needed if we’re to get people out of poverty is more jobs that
pay decent wages. There aren’t enough of these in our current economy. The need
for good jobs extends far beyond the current crisis; we’ll need a
full-employment policy and a bigger investment in 21st-century education and
skill development strategies if we’re to have any hope of breaking out of the
current economic malaise.
This isn’t a problem specific to the current moment. We’ve been drowning in a
flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in
poverty comes from work. According to the most recent data available from the
Census Bureau, 104 million people — a third of the population — have annual
incomes below twice the poverty line, less than $38,000 for a family of three.
They struggle to make ends meet every month.
Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the
Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of
four, less than $23,000 annually. Families that can send another adult to work
have done better, but single mothers (and fathers) don’t have that option.
Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40
Wages for those who work on jobs in the bottom half have been stuck since 1973,
increasing just 7 percent.
It’s not that the whole economy stagnated. There’s been growth, a lot of it, but
it has stuck at the top. The realization that 99 percent of us have been left in
the dust by the 1 percent at the top (some much further behind than others) came
far later than it should have — Rip Van Winkle and then some. It took the Great
Recession to get people’s attention, but the facts had been accumulating for a
long time. If we’ve awakened, we can act.
Low-wage jobs bedevil tens of millions of people. At the other end of the
low-income spectrum we have a different problem. The safety net for single
mothers and their children has developed a gaping hole over the past dozen
years. This is a major cause of the dramatic increase in extreme poverty during
those years. The census tells us that 20.5 million people earn incomes below
half the poverty line, less than about $9,500 for a family of three — up eight
million from 2000.
Why? A substantial reason is the near demise of welfare — now called Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. In the mid-90s more than two-thirds of
children in poor families received welfare. But that number has dwindled over
the past decade and a half to roughly 27 percent.
One result: six million people have no income other than food stamps. Food
stamps provide an income at a third of the poverty line, close to $6,300 for a
family of three. It’s hard to understand how they survive.
At least we have food stamps. They have been a powerful antirecession tool in
the past five years, with the number of recipients rising to 46 million today
from 26.3 million in 2007. By contrast, welfare has done little to counter the
impact of the recession; although the number of people receiving cash assistance
rose from 3.9 million to 4.5 million since 2007, many states actually reduced
the size of their rolls and lowered benefits to those in greatest need.
Race and gender play an enormous part in determining poverty’s continuing
course. Minorities are disproportionately poor: around 27 percent of
African-Americans, Latinos and American Indians are poor, versus 10 percent of
whites. Wealth disparities are even wider. At the same time, whites constitute
the largest number among the poor. This is a fact that bears emphasis, since
measures to raise income and provide work supports will help more whites than
minorities. But we cannot ignore race and gender, both because they present
particular challenges and because so much of the politics of poverty is grounded
in those issues.
We know what we need to do — make the rich pay their fair share of running the
country, raise the minimum wage, provide health care and a decent safety net,
and the like. But realistically, the immediate challenge is keeping what we
have. Representative Paul Ryan and his ideological peers would slash everything
from Social Security to Medicare and on through the list, and would hand out
more tax breaks to the people at the top. Robin Hood would turn over in his
We should not kid ourselves. It isn’t certain that things will stay as good as
they are now. The wealth and income of the top 1 percent grows at the expense of
everyone else. Money breeds power and power breeds more money. It is a truly
A surefire politics of change would necessarily involve getting people in the
middle — from the 30th to the 70th percentile — to see their own economic
self-interest. If they vote in their own self-interest, they’ll elect people who
are likely to be more aligned with people with lower incomes as well as with
them. As long as people in the middle identify more with people on the top than
with those on the bottom, we are doomed. The obscene amount of money flowing
into the electoral process makes things harder yet.
But history shows that people power wins sometimes. That’s what happened in the
Progressive Era a century ago and in the Great Depression as well. The gross
inequality of those times produced an amalgam of popular unrest, organization,
muckraking journalism and political leadership that attacked the big — and
worsening — structural problem of economic inequality. The civil rights movement
changed the course of history and spread into the women’s movement, the
environmental movement and, later, the gay rights movement. Could we have said
on the day before the dawn of each that it would happen, let alone succeed? Did
Rosa Parks know?
We have the ingredients. For one thing, the demographics of the electorate are
changing. The consequences of that are hardly automatic, but they create an
opportunity. The new generation of young people — unusually distrustful of
encrusted power in all institutions and, as a consequence, tending toward
libertarianism — is ripe for a new politics of honesty. Lower-income people will
participate if there are candidates who speak to their situations. The change
has to come from the bottom up and from synergistic leadership that draws it
out. When people decide they have had enough and there are candidates who stand
for what they want, they will vote accordingly.
I have seen days of promise and days of darkness, and I’ve seen them more than
once. All history is like that. The people have the power if they will use it,
but they have to see that it is in their interest to do so.
is a professor of law
at Georgetown University
author, most recently,
of “So Rich,
Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America.”
Poverty in America: Why Can’t We End It?,
Are Still Getting Poorer,
Downturn’s Punch Varies,
Census Data Show
The New York Times
By JASON DePARLE
and SABRINA TAVERNISE
WASHINGTON — The discouraging numbers spilling from the Census Bureau’s poverty
report this week were a disquieting reminder that a weak economy continues to
spread broad and deep pain.
And so it does. But not evenly.
The Midwest is battered, but the Northeast escaped with a lighter knock. The
incomes of young adults have plunged — but those of older Americans have
actually risen. On the whole, immigrants have weathered the storm a bit better
than people born here. In rural areas, poverty remained unchanged last year,
while in suburbs it reached the highest level since 1967, when the Census Bureau
first tracked it.
Yet one old problem has not changed: the poor have rapidly gotten poorer.
The report, an annual gauge of prosperity and pain, is sure to be cited in
coming months as lawmakers make difficult decisions about how to balance the
competing goals of cutting deficits and preserving safety nets.
Its overall findings — income down, poverty up — are hardly surprising in the
worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Of equal interest, with
fiscal knives in the air, are the looks at who has suffered the most and who has
“Certainly in a recession we want to put resources where they’re most needed,”
said Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute, who served as a Treasury official
under Democratic and Republican presidents. “And in a recession, needs change
dramatically from group to group.”
Perhaps no households have weathered the downturn better than those headed by
people 65 and older, whose incomes rose 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2010. By
contrast, household income for every other age group fell. Among people ages 15
to 24, it plunged 15.3 percent.
Partly that is because older Americans get more of their income from pensions
and investments, so a job shortage hurts them less. Also, the generation now
retiring has been the most prosperous in history, so as poorer Americans die
off, the income of the age group grows.
Such data is likely to feed longstanding debates about generational equity,
since the largest portion of safety net spending goes to those 65 and older,
through Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
“We are spending too much of our limited resources on the elderly, and not
investing enough in programs for younger Americans, such as job training and
education,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, a budget expert at the Brookings
Another noteworthy finding comes from the suburbs, which have traditionally had
the lowest rates of poverty. Suburban dwellers experienced a sharp increase
toward the end of the past decade. Nearly 12 percent of them were living in
poverty in 2010, the highest level ever recorded, up from just 8 percent in
2001. (The rate in cities was 19 percent, but rose less sharply.)
“There’s been a suburbanization of poverty,” said Alan Berube, a Brookings
demographer, who cited the growth of service, retail and construction jobs that
lured low-income Americans to the suburbs before the recession. “The notion of
poverty being only in inner cities and isolated rural areas is increasingly out
of step with reality.”
Household income fell in every region of the country from 2007 to 2010. But it
fell much less in the Northeast (3.1 percent) than in the South (6.3 percent),
the West (6.7 percent) or the Midwest (8.4 percent). And the Northeast was the
only region where household income did not fall last year.
The declines in the West have been fueled in part by the collapse of the housing
industry, especially in Arizona and Nevada. And the Midwest has suffered idled
factories. Its status as the hardest-hit region is likely to come into play next
year as presidential candidates hunt such big Electoral College prizes as
Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio.
“The big hurt has been in the manufacturing and construction industries, which
were big in the Midwest and West,” said Timothy Smeeding, an economist at the
University of Wisconsin, Madison.
The census findings present two competing stories of immigrants — a reminder of
just how economically diverse that group has become. From 2007 to 2010, they
have fared both better and worse than the native born.
Among people born in the United States, household incomes declined 6.1 percent.
Among non-citizens, the decline was steeper — 8 percent. But for immigrants who
had attained citizenship, the decline was only 3.9 percent.
That latter group may disproportionately include the highly educated
professionals who increasingly fill the new Americans’ ranks. A recent study by
Audrey Singer, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, found that the number
of immigrants with college degrees now exceeds those who lack a high school
“The high-skilled people are starting to dominate,” she said
Two worrisome numbers in the report raise questions about the recent response of
the safety net. Poverty has risen especially fast among single mothers. More
than 40 percent of households headed by women now live in poverty, which is
defined as $17,568 for a family of three.
That is the first time since 1997 that figure has been so high. Analysts
attribute the rise in part to changes in the welfare system, enacted in the
mid-1990s, which make cash aid much harder to get. Those changes were credited
with encouraging recipients to work in good times, but may leave them with less
protection when jobs disappear.
“The business cycle is going to hurt them a lot more than it used to,” said
Robert Moffitt, a Johns Hopkins University economist.
Poor people not only grew more numerous — 46.2 million — but also poorer. Among
the poor, the share in deep poverty (defined as having less than half the income
to escape poverty) rose to the highest level in 36 years: 44.3 percent.
The census data may overstate hardship by failing to count some benefits the
needy receive, like tax credits and food stamps. But it also may also understate
their needs by failing to adjust for health care expenses and variations in the
cost of living.
About 20.5 million people are in deep poverty, with food stamps increasingly
replacing cash aid as the safety net of last resort. More than 45 million people
get food stamps, an increase of 64 percent since January 2008. About one in
eight Americans, and one in four children, receives aid. Using an alternative
definition of income, the Census Bureau found that food stamps lifted 3.9
million people above the poverty line.
“Given that poverty and hardship are likely to continue for some time, it’s
imperative that we protect the program,” said Stacy Dean, an analyst at the
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which aids in food stamp outreach
Poor Are Still Getting Poorer, but Downturn’s Punch
Census Data Show,
At East Village Food Pantry,
the Price Is a Sermon
September 28, 2010
The New York Times
By JOSEPH BERGER
The shopping carts are lined up hours early in Tompkins Square Park, not far
from the dog run, where the East Village’s more genteel residents are unleashing
retrievers and beagles and chatting animatedly. The poor or elderly waiting on
benches to get the free food that comes with a dose of the Gospel seem more lost
in their own thoughts, even though many meet every Tuesday.
A guard, Mike Luke, a powerhouse known as Big Mike who himself was a consumer at
church pantries until he found religion and decided to work for “the man
upstairs,” manages the crowd with crisp authority until the 11 a.m. service
starts across the street at the Tompkins Square Gospel Fellowship. There is
nervous tension because only the first 50 will get in, and suddenly two women
are squabbling over a black cart.
“How do you know that’s your cart?” Big Mike firmly asks one, a fair question
since the carts look alike. But the mystery is cleared up with the discovery of
an orphaned gray cart.
Inside the worship hall, the 50 men and women sit in neat rows in front of a
pulpit and a painting of a generic waterfall while a pianist softly plays hymns.
Their carts are reassembled in neat rows as well.
The room has the shopworn air of Sergeant Sarah Brown’s Save-a-Soul Mission in
“Guys and Dolls.” One almost expects Stubby Kaye to get up and sing “Sit Down,
You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” But people don’t mind having to sit through a sermon
as the price of admission, and few have jobs they need to run to. While they
wait, volunteers fill each cart with a couple of bread loaves — redolent of a
Gospel miracle, except these are ciabatta and 10-grain — a couple of bananas, a
couple of less-than-freshly-picked ears of corn, a box of eggs, a box of
blueberries, even an Asian pear.
The food is donated by Trader Joe’s, the gourmet and organic food purveyor,
which has a store nearby. It usually feeds the kinds of professionals who use
the dog run, but it provides the fellowship with a wealth of unsold baked goods,
fruit and vegetables.
The fellowship was started 115 years ago as a mission to the immigrant Jews of
the Lower East Side but now mostly serves the black, Latino and Asian poor. The
East Village has several other pantries that dispense food without sermons;
their food is government-financed and so must be religion-free. The fellowship
started its giveaways in January and now feeds 250 people during three services
on Tuesdays — one in Chinese — and a single evening service on Sundays and
The mission is run by the Rev. Bill Jones, a lively ordained Baptist minister
from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“People are not only hungry for food, but hungry for the word of God,” Mr. Jones
said. “There’s not just a physical need but a spiritual need.”
Nevertheless, he is aware of the actual hunger. “If you wait for three hours to
get $25 worth of groceries,” he said, “you have a need.”
He affirms that thought to the waiting crowd in a stentorian drawl.
“You all get blueberries today,” he announces. “Some of you get eggs. If you
don’t get eggs, don’t be upset. You neighbor is getting eggs, so be grateful.”
The people who come include Rafael Mercado, 52, who lost his job as a mailroom
clerk four years ago.
“I don’t have the kind of money now to go shopping,” he said, “so I go to many
pantries.” Another is Asia Feliciano, 37, a single mother with a lush head of
cornrow braids. She and her sons, Trevor, 5, and Jordan, 3, live in a nearby
shelter, and they stumbled upon the mission in August while panhandling.
“It puts food on our plates every night,” she said.
Mr. Jones begins the service with a prayer — “Heavenly father, we are so
grateful for the provisions you have brought us for another day.” He then offers
a lesson from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus tells the disciples to love one
another. With ardor that is not quite brimstone, Mr. Jones urges listeners to
love one another as well, not give in to temptations and pray to remain faithful
Many among the 50 sit stone-faced. But some clearly listen. Though she comes
mostly for the food, Ms. Feliciano indicates that the worship has subversively
“When I have to sit through the service, it opens my eyes,” she said. “So I
started reading the Bible and I asked them for a Bible, and they gave me one.”
Jim Dwyer is on leave.
At East Village Food
the Price Is a Sermon,
Recession Raises Poverty Rate
to a 15-Year High
September 16, 2010
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
The percentage of Americans struggling below the poverty line in 2009 was the
highest it has been in 15 years, the Census Bureau reported Thursday, and
interviews with poverty experts and aid groups said the increase appeared to be
continuing this year.
With the country in its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, four
million additional Americans found themselves in poverty in 2009, with the total
reaching 44 million, or one in seven residents. Millions more were surviving
only because of expanded unemployment insurance and other assistance.
And the numbers could have climbed higher: One way embattled Americans have
gotten by is sharing homes with siblings, parents or even nonrelatives,
sometimes resulting in overused couches and frayed nerves but holding down the
rise in the national poverty rate, according to the report.
The share of residents in poverty climbed to 14.3 percent in 2009, the highest
level recorded since 1994. The rise was steepest for children, with one in five
affected, the bureau said.
The report provides the most detailed picture yet of the impact of the recession
and unemployment on incomes, especially at the bottom of the scale. It also
indicated that the temporary increases in aid provided in last year’s stimulus
bill eased the burdens on millions of families.
For a single adult in 2009, the poverty line was $10,830 in pretax cash income;
for a family of four, $22,050.
Given the depth of the recession, some economists had expected an even larger
jump in the poor.
“A lot of people would have been worse off if they didn’t have someone to move
in with,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on
Poverty at the University of Wisconsin.
Dr. Smeeding said that in a typical case, a struggling family, like a mother and
children who would be in poverty on their own, stays with more prosperous
parents or other relatives.
The Census study found an 11.6 percent increase in the number of such
multifamily households over the last two years. Included in that number was
James Davis, 22, of Chicago, who lost his job as a package handler for Fed Ex in
February 2009. As he ran out of money, he and his 2-year-old daughter moved in
with his mother about a year ago, avoiding destitution while he searched for
“I couldn’t afford rent,” he said.
Danise Sanders, 31, and her three children have been sleeping in the living room
of her mother and sister’s one-bedroom apartment in San Pablo, Calif., for the
last month, with no end in sight. They doubled up after the bank foreclosed on
her landlord, forcing her to move.
“It’s getting harder,” said Ms. Sanders, who makes a low income as a mail clerk.
“We’re all pitching in for rent and bills.”
There are strong signs that the high poverty numbers have continued into 2010
and are probably still rising, some experts said, as the recovery sputters and
unemployment remains near 10 percent.
“Historically, it takes time for poverty to recover after unemployment starts to
go down,” said LaDonna Pavetti, a welfare expert at the Center on Budget and
Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group in Washington.
Dr. Smeeding said it seemed almost certain that poverty would further rise this
year. He noted that the increase in unemployment and poverty had been
concentrated among young adults without college educations and their children,
and that these people remained at the end of the line in their search for work.
One indirect sign of continuing hardship is the rise in food stamp recipients,
who now include nearly one in seven adults and an even greater share of the
nation’s children. While other factors as well as declining incomes have driven
the rise, by mid-2010 the number of recipients had reached 41.3 million,
compared with 39 million at the beginning of the year.
Food banks, too, report swelling demand.
“We’re seeing more younger people coming in that not only don’t have any food,
but nowhere to stay,” said Marla Goodwin, director of Jeremiah’s Food Pantry in
East St. Louis, Ill. The pantry was open one day a month when it opened in 2008
but expanded this year to five days a month.
And Texas food banks said they distributed 14 percent more food in the second
quarter of 2010 than in the same period last year.
The Census report showed increases in poverty for whites, blacks and Hispanic
Americans, with historic disparities continuing. The poverty rate for
non-Hispanic whites was 9.4 percent, for blacks 25.8 percent and for Hispanics
25.3 percent. The rate for Asians was unchanged at 12.5 percent.
The median income of all households stayed roughly the same from 2008 to 2009.
It had fallen sharply the year before, as the recession gained steam and remains
well below the levels of the late 1990s — a sign of the stagnating prospects for
the middle class.
The decline in incomes in 2008 had been greater than expected, and when the two
recession years are considered together, the decline since 2007 was 4.2 percent,
said Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard. Gains achieved earlier in the
decade were wiped out, and median family incomes in 2009 were 5 percent lower
than in 1999.
“This is the first time in memory that an entire decade has produced essentially
no economic growth for the typical American household,” Mr. Katz said.
The number of United States residents without health insurance climbed to 51
million in 2009, from 46 million in 2008, the Census said. Their ranks are
expected to shrink in coming years as the health care overhaul adopted by
Congress in March begins to take effect.
Government benefits like food stamps and tax credits, which can provide hundreds
or even thousands of dollars in extra income, are not included in calculating
whether a family’s income falls above or below the poverty line.
But rises in the cost of housing, medical care or energy and the large regional
differences in the cost of living are not taken into account either.
If food-stamp benefits and low-income tax credits were included as income, close
to 8 million of those labeled as poor in the report would instead be just above
the poverty line, the Census report estimated. At the same time, a person who
starts a job and receives the earned income tax credit could have new
work-related expenses like transportation and child care. Unemployment benefits,
which are considered cash income and included in the calculations, helped keep 3
million families above the line last year, the report said, with temporary
extensions and higher payments helping all the more.
The poverty line is a flawed measure, experts agree, but it remains the best
consistent long-term gauge of need available, and its ups and downs reflect
The federal government will issue an alternate calculation next year that will
include important noncash and after-tax income and also account for regional
differences in the cost of living.
But it will continue to calculate the rate in the old way as well, in part
because eligibility for many programs, from Medicaid to free school lunches, is
linked to the longstanding poverty line.
Reporting was contributed by Rebecca Cathcart in Los Angeles,
Fitzsimmons in Chicago, Malcolm Gay in St. Louis,
Robert Gebeloff in New York
and Malia Wollan in San Francisco.
Recession Raises Poverty
Rate to a 15-Year High, NYT, 16.9.2010,
Poor in UK
dying 10 years earlier than rich,
despite years of
Department of Health and NHS criticised
for making too little progress
tackling key barometer of inequality
Denis Campbell, health correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 2 July 2010
This article appeared on p1 of the Main section section
of the Guardian
Friday 2 July 2010.
It was published on guardian.co.uk
at 00.05 BST
on Friday 2 July 2010.
It was last modified at 00.05 BST on Friday 2 July 2010.
The life expectancy gap between rich and poor people in England is widening,
despite years of government and NHS action, a hard-hitting National Audit Office
report reveals today.
Extensive efforts have failed to reduce the wide differential, which can still
be 10 years or more depending on socio-economic background, says the public
spending watchdog. While life expectancy has risen generally, it is increasing
at a slower rate for England's poorest citizens.
In Blackpool, for example, men live for an average of 73.6 years, which is 10.7
fewer than men in Kensington and Chelsea in central London, who reach 84.3
years. Similarly, women in the Lancashire town typically die at 78.8 years –
10.1 years earlier than those in the London borough, who reach an average 89.9.
The gap in life expectancy between government-designated areas of high
deprivation and the national average has continued to widen, so Labour's aim of
reducing it by 10% will not be met, the NAO concludes. The failure to meet the
target has cost an estimated 3,300 lives.
The report criticises the Department of Health and the NHS for making too little
progress to tackle this key barometer of inequality. Although the DoH set a
target in 2000 to reduce health inequalities and published a strategy in 2003,
real NHS action did not begin until 2006, it says.
"The Department of Health has made a concerted effort to tackle a very difficult
and long-standing problem," said Amyas Morse, head of the NAO.
"However, it was slow to take action and health inequalities were not a top
priority for the NHS until 2006."
The service was also slow to apply three key policies, including giving more
poor people drugs to reduce their blood pressure or cholesterol level. "These
have yet to be adopted on the scale required to close the inequalities gap," the
The report also highlights a continuing lack of GPs in poor areas with high
health need, despite shortages having been identified as a problem in 2000. It
is also unclear whether an extra £230 a head spent in some areas to improve
health outcomes has had any real impact.
Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said
the disparities showed the inequality of English society. "If we see ourselves
as a civilised society, these gaps are an indication of unfairness, which
shouldn't be there, and is an unfairness which costs lives, damages people's
health and will eventually be a huge burden on the NHS if they aren't tackled,"
But the NAO report did contain good news about improvements in the health of
England's poorest citizens, he added. "The health of the people in the poorest
areas is going in the right direction – that's good news. We shouldn't regard
that as a failure. But the bulk of the population are improving their health at
a faster rate." He urged ministers to resist any temptation to cut spending on
health inequalities in the tough financial climate.
Anne Milton, the public health minister, emphasised the government's belief in
health equality. "Everyone should have the same opportunities to lead a healthy
life no matter where they live. We want the public's health to be at the very
heart of all we do, not just in the NHS but across government," she said.
"This report shows that efforts have been made to address health inequalities
but that more needs to be done to tackle the deep-rooted social problems that
cause ill-health. I want to see the NHS, doctors and local government acting at
the right time to improve the health of those who need it most."
The NHS Confederation, which represents most health service organisations,
admitted that more progress was needed. Jo Webber, its deputy policy director,
said: "The NHS and its partners, especially in local government, have a
responsibility to help stop people falling into and continuing in ill-health
rather than picking up the pieces when it may be too late. Encouraging improved
health requires a focus on all aspects of society, including economic
inequality, and quality of life in early years."
Tammy Boyce, of the King's Fund health thinktank, said the NHS could only
achieve so much. "Tackling health inequalities is not a task for the NHS alone.
It requires a co-ordinated, long-term commitment across government to address
the wider causes of ill health such as poverty and poor housing," she said.
"The first test of whether the coalition government is likely to succeed where
the previous government failed will come in this autumn's spending review. It is
vital that cross-cutting issues like health inequalities are not overlooked in
the scramble to deliver spending cuts on a department-by-department basis."
Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said the big gap in life
expectancy had to be tackled in the light of the government's intention to
increase the age at which people can draw the state pension. "With a 13-year
disparity in life expectancy between different areas of the country, it's
shocking that primary care trusts are still failing to use simple and effective
treatments to help tackle the problem.
"This report follows the government's announcement last week to raise the state
pension age further and faster, which will hit those with a shorter life
expectancy in the poorest areas of Britain hardest," she said. "In this context,
tackling health inequalities is more urgent than ever and the government must
set ambitious targets to close the yawning life expectancy divide."
Poor in UK dying 10 years earlier than rich,
despite years of government action, G, 2.7.2010,
Forced to choose eating or heating,
family burns furniture to
Demand for free parcels at food banks soars
as big freeze leaves
to pay for both food and warmth
Sunday 17 January 2010
This article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 19.06 GMT
on Sunday 17 January
A version appeared on p6 of the UK news section
of the Guardian
on Monday 18
It was last modified at 19.07 GMT
on Sunday 17 January 2010.
Holly Billen sat perched on the edge of her sofa, holding the
bump of her unborn child and nervously biting her lip. "It's nothing to be proud
of to say you don't have the money to feed yourself," she said. "But I'm not
ashamed to say it."
Aged 26 and eight months pregnant, she has had to endure most prolonged cold
snap in her lifetime. The soaring heating costs mean the choice between going
cold or going hungry has become a daily dilemma.
Food is sacrificed for warmth in her terraced cottage in Wilton, Wiltshire, not
least because her eight-year-old son, Brandon, has contracted a succession of
colds. "I've felt really bad some nights," she said. "He's in bed, and really
cold. But there's no money for the extra heat. So its extra blankets and socks
and vests under pyjamas."
Recently, she turned to a less conventional remedy for the sub-zero
temperatures. Completely out of money for gas, she took apart a shelf unit to
use as fuel in her fireplace. "I figured I needed it more for heat than
storage," she said. "My boyfriend came into the garden because he heard me out
there with a saw."
It may sound like a story set in the Victorian era, but Billen, a dancer, is not
alone. She is among thousands of people who have begun relying on food handouts
to free up money to spend on heating during what the Met Office is describing as
the longest spell of freezing conditions since December 1981. While some areas
had milder weather today, forecasters said fresh snow could arrive by Tuesday.
Four miles from Billen's home, the depot for the largest food bank in the
country is feeling the strain. In the cold weather, demand has doubled at the
depot, on the outskirts of Salisbury, and the shelves that normally hold fruit
juice, sugar and canned meat are nearly empty.
The Trussell Trust, a Christian charity that runs the depot and a network of 56
others across the country, said the cold has led to an unprecedented demand for
its parcels, which contain enough donated items to keep a family fed for six
days. To qualify for a box of food under the scheme, an individual or family
needs to be provided with a voucher by a care professional such as a teacher,
social worker or doctor. In December – when the freezing weather in large parts
of the UK began to bite – demand more than tripled in some places. Some of the
busiest banks have been in Scotland, site of some of the worst weather and
lowest temperatures. A food bank in Ebbw Vale, south Wales, provided food to 118
families in December – up from 74 the previous month. During the same period,
demand for tinned food and drink from the Suffolk bank jumped from 29 to 197
The charity says initial feedback suggests there has been similar, if not
higher, demand for handouts in January, an increase it puts down to the rising
costs of heating homes.
There have been a raft of measures introduced in recent years to help people
cope with financial cost of cold weather, and over 12.3molder people will
benefit from winter fuel payments this year, totalling about £2.7bn. Already the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has paid out an additional £260m this
winter to families under the cold weather payment scheme, which grants £25 a
week to some vulnerable households when – as has happened across the UK – the
temperature falls to zero for seven consecutive days.
"As temperatures plummet, I don't want vulnerable people to feel left in the
cold," DWP minister Helen Goodman said recently. "The payments are automatic so
everyone entitled will get them and should not worry about turning up their
heating." But not every vulnerable family is entitled, and even those who
receive the payments complain they do not absorb the spike in bills.
Research by Age Concern has shown that, despite government relief, one in five
older people skip meals to save money for heating. Tonight the charity urged
ministers to do more to ease pressure forcing elderly people into the "cruel
choice" between food or warmth.
On Wednesday last week, Northamptonshire county council announced a serious case
review into the deaths of Jean and Derek Randall, a couple believed to be in
their 70s whose bodies were found in their frozen home. Their cause of death is
unclear but neighbours told a local radio station the couple were relying on a
single electric heater and the electric hob rings on their cooker for warmth.
"It's completely inappropriate in 21st-century Britain that pensioners should
experience such an ordeal and die such tragic deaths," said the couple's Labour
MP, Sally Keeble.
Chris Mould, director of the Trussell Trust, said people in poverty were more
likely to use expensive electric heaters and pre-payment gas meters. Aside from
higher bills, the Arctic climate has brought with it other expected costs, he
said. "We're seeing a lot of people who are in a crisis triggered by the cold
weather. Broken boilers. Broken cars. Things temporarily break down and cost
money, and these incidents can tip people into crisis. It's sort of sadly
The government's cold winter subsidies do not apply to Billen who, instead of
receiving income support, gets £140 in working tax credits plus child benefit.
Still, she said her frustration is directed at her energy supplier, Southern
When she struggled to pay a £500 bill last year, the company encouraged her to
sign up to a pre-payment meter that, she was told, would take a slice each time
she paid her bill in order to recoup the money she owed. A failure when the
machine was installed meant the debt was never paid, however, and Billen now
finds that, when she puts £10 in, Southern Electric automatically takes £7 to
pay the debt. That leaves £3, which pays for a few hours' heat. "I spent hours
on the phone to the call centre," she said. "I said to them, I'm expecting a
baby. I'm not working. I can't afford this. They basically said: 'Too bad'."
She was given a food bank voucher after explaining her predicament to her
midwife. "I loved the fact I could eat a meal without feeling guilty about not
spending the money on heating," she said.
A spokesperson for Scottish and Southern Energy, which owns Southern Electric,
encouraged anyone in Billen's position to contact them, and said it would
provide an "individual, tailor-made package" to help people keep warm.
Hours after the Guardian told the company it would feature Billen's story, she
received a call from the company. "They're coming as soon as they can to take
the meter out," she said. "They're lowering the repayment of existing debt to a
third of what it was. And I'm going to pay monthly. Really I'll end up paying a
hell of a lot less."
But not every family struggling to pay their energy bills can benefit from what
Billen thought was a brazen, though welcome, public relations stunt. Many feel
ignored; they say the nightly television news bulletins about travel chaos,
problems with gritters and school closures belie the more severe plight that
cold weather has brought to people in poverty.
Mark Ward, who manages the Salisbury food bank, said he had seen "much younger"
clients using it recently. . He recently delivered food to a young couple with a
baby in the nearby village of Dinton. All three were eating, sleeping and living
the single dowstairs room they could afford to heat.
Another beneficiary of the food bank, Donna Buxton, 38, a
partially blind mother from Great Bedwyn, had a similar story. "I've been
putting £30 a week in my meter and the heating wasn't keeping the place warm, so
I brought the mattress into the living room," she said. "Me and my 11-year-old
daughter, Libby, slept in there with two quilts and the cat."
A short walk from the Salisbury depot in Bermerton Heath, one of the poorest
areas in the market town, there are similar stories behind most front doors.
Lucy and Mark Mitchell, food bank recipients in their 20s, said they had taken
to sleeping in the same bed as their two young boys to keep warm.
Inside a cold flat on the edge of the estate, Mick Cutler, 56, an out-of-work
van driver, explained how his wife, Julie, and 10-year-old stepson were making
do with hot water bottles rather than radiators. They too have turned to the
bank for food.
"Really you're begging, aren't you?" he said. "But it's bloody hard to be honest
with you. I'm not too bad – I don't feel the cold as much as Julie and Matthew,"
he said. "He does go to bed with his clothes on sometimes. When he has a bath,
he wants to have the heating on, but I have to say 'no'. I feel guilty. How can
you tell a 10-year-old you can't keep him warm?"
Forced to choose eating
family burns furniture to keep warm, G, 17.1.2010,
The Safety Net
Living on Nothing but Food Stamps
January 3, 2010
The New York Times
By JASON DEPARLE
and ROBERT M. GEBELOFF
CAPE CORAL, Fla. — After an improbable rise from the Bronx projects to a job
selling Gulf Coast homes, Isabel Bermudez lost it all to an epic housing bust —
the six-figure income, the house with the pool and the investment property.
Now, as she papers the county with résumés and girds herself for rejection, she
is supporting two daughters on an income that inspires a double take: zero
dollars in monthly cash and a few hundred dollars in food stamps.
With food-stamp use at a record high and surging by the day, Ms. Bermudez
belongs to an overlooked subgroup that is growing especially fast: recipients
with no cash income.
About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other
income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times.
In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they
described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no
unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.
Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it
harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent
over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with
a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.
“It’s the one thing I can count on every month — I know the children are going
to have food,” Ms. Bermudez, 42, said with the forced good cheer she mastered
selling rows of new stucco homes.
Members of this straitened group range from displaced strivers like Ms. Bermudez
to weathered men who sleep in shelters and barter cigarettes. Some draw on
savings or sporadic under-the-table jobs. Some move in with relatives. Some get
noncash help, like subsidized apartments. While some go without cash incomes
only briefly before securing jobs or aid, others rely on food stamps alone for
The surge in this precarious way of life has been so swift that few policy
makers have noticed. But it attests to the growing role of food stamps within
the safety net. One in eight Americans now receives food stamps, including one
in four children.
Here in Florida, the number of people with no income beyond food stamps has
doubled in two years and has more than tripled along once-thriving parts of the
southwest coast. The building frenzy that lured Ms. Bermudez to Fort Myers and
neighboring Cape Coral has left a wasteland of foreclosed homes and written new
tales of descent into star-crossed indigence.
A skinny fellow in saggy clothes who spent his childhood in foster care, Rex
Britton, 22, hopped a bus from Syracuse two years ago for a job painting parking
lots. Now, with unemployment at nearly 14 percent and paving work scarce, he
receives $200 a month in food stamps and stays with a girlfriend who survives on
a rent subsidy and a government check to help her care for her disabled toddler.
“Without food stamps we’d probably be starving,” Mr. Britton said.
A strapping man who once made a living throwing fastballs, William Trapani, 53,
left his dreams on the minor league mound and his front teeth in prison, where
he spent nine years for selling cocaine. Now he sleeps at a rescue mission,
repairs bicycles for small change, and counts $200 in food stamps as his only
“I’ve been out looking for work every day — there’s absolutely nothing,” he
A grandmother whose voice mail message urges callers to “have a blessed good
day,” Wanda Debnam, 53, once drove 18-wheelers and dreamed of selling real
estate. But she lost her job at Starbucks this year and moved in with her son in
nearby Lehigh Acres. Now she sleeps with her 8-year-old granddaughter under a
poster of the Jonas Brothers and uses her food stamps to avoid her
“I’m climbing the walls,” Ms. Debnam said.
Florida officials have done a better job than most in monitoring the rise of
people with no cash income. They say the access to food stamps shows the safety
net is working.
“The program is doing what it was designed to do: help very needy people get
through a very difficult time,” said Don Winstead, deputy secretary for the
Department of Children and Families. “But for this program they would be in even
more dire straits.”
But others say the lack of cash support shows the safety net is torn. The main
cash welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, has scarcely
expanded during the recession; the rolls are still down about 75 percent from
their 1990s peak. A different program, unemployment insurance, has rapidly
grown, but still omits nearly half the unemployed. Food stamps, easier to get,
have become the safety net of last resort.
“The food-stamp program is being asked to do too much,” said James Weill,
president of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington advocacy group.
“People need income support.”
Food stamps, officially the called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
have taken on a greater role in the safety net for several reasons. Since the
benefit buys only food, it draws less suspicion of abuse than cash aid and more
political support. And the federal government pays for the whole benefit, giving
states reason to maximize enrollment. States typically share in other programs’
The Times collected income data on food-stamp recipients in 31 states, which
account for about 60 percent of the national caseload. On average, 18 percent
listed cash income of zero in their most recent monthly filings. Projected over
the entire caseload, that suggests six million people in households with no
income. About 1.2 million are children.
The numbers have nearly tripled in Nevada over the past two years, doubled in
Florida and New York, and grown nearly 90 percent in Minnesota and Utah. In
Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, one of every 25 residents reports
an income of only food stamps. In Yakima County, Wash., the figure is about one
of every 17.
Experts caution that these numbers are estimates. Recipients typically report a
small rise in earnings just once every six months, so some people listed as
jobless may have recently found some work. New York officials say their numbers
include some households with earnings from illegal immigrants, who cannot get
food stamps but sometimes live with relatives who do.
Still, there is little doubt that millions of people are relying on incomes of
food stamps alone, and their numbers are rapidly growing. “This is a reflection
of the hardship that a lot of people in our state are facing; I think that is
without question,” said Mr. Winstead, the Florida official.
With their condition mostly overlooked, there is little data on how long these
households go without cash incomes or what other resources they have. But they
appear an eclectic lot. Florida data shows the population about evenly split
between families with children and households with just adults, with the latter
group growing fastest during the recession. They are racially mixed as well —
about 42 percent white, 32 percent black, and 22 percent Latino — with the
growth fastest among whites during the recession.
The expansion of the food-stamp program, which will spend more than $60 billion
this year, has so far enjoyed bipartisan support. But it does have conservative
critics who worry about the costs and the rise in dependency.
“This is craziness,” said Representative John Linder, a Georgia Republican who
is the ranking minority member of a House panel on welfare policy. “We’re at
risk of creating an entire class of people, a subset of people, just comfortable
getting by living off the government.”
Mr. Linder added: “You don’t improve the economy by paying people to sit around
and not work. You improve the economy by lowering taxes” so small businesses
will create more jobs.
With nearly 15,000 people in Lee County, Fla., reporting no income but food
stamps, the Fort Myers area is a laboratory of inventive survival. When Rhonda
Navarro, a cancer patient with a young son, lost running water, she ran a hose
from an outdoor spigot that was still working into the shower stall. Mr.
Britton, the jobless parking lot painter, sold his blood.
Kevin Zirulo and Diane Marshall, brother and sister, have more unlikely stories
than a reality television show. With a third sibling paying their rent, they are
living on a food-stamp benefit of $300 a month. A gun collector covered in
patriotic tattoos, Mr. Zirulo, 31, has sold off two semiautomatic rifles and a
revolver. Ms. Marshall, who has a 7-year-old daughter, scavenges discarded
furniture to sell on the Internet.
They said they dropped out of community college and diverted student aid to
household expenses. They received $150 from the Nielsen Company, which monitors
their television. They grew so desperate this month, they put the breeding
services of the family Chihuahua up for bid on Craigslist.
“We look at each other all the time and say we don’t know how we get through,”
Ms. Marshall said.
Ms. Bermudez, by contrast, tells what until the recession seemed a storybook
tale. Raised in the Bronx by a drug-addicted mother, she landed a clerical job
at a Manhattan real estate firm and heard that Fort Myers was booming. On a
quick scouting trip in 2002, she got a mortgage on easy terms for a $120,000
home with three bedrooms and a two-car garage. The developer called the floor
“I screamed, I cried,” she said. “I took so much pride in that house.”
Jobs were as plentiful as credit. Working for two large builders, she quickly
moved from clerical jobs to sales and bought an investment home. Her income
soared to $180,000, and she kept the pay stubs to prove it. By the time the glut
set in and she lost her job, the teaser rates on her mortgages had expired and
her monthly payments soared.
She landed a few short-lived jobs as the industry imploded, exhausted her
unemployment insurance and spent all her savings. But without steady work in
nearly three years, she could not stay afloat. In January, the bank foreclosed
One morning as the eviction deadline approached, Ms. Bermudez woke up without
enough food to get through the day. She got emergency supplies at a food pantry
for her daughters, Tiffany, now 17, and Ashley, 4, and signed up for food
stamps. “My mother lived off the government,” she said. “It wasn’t something as
a proud working woman I wanted to do.”
For most of the year, she did have a $600 government check to help her care for
Ashley, who has a developmental disability. But she lost it after she was
hospitalized and missed an appointment to verify the child’s continued
eligibility. While she is trying to get it restored, her sole income now is $320
in food stamps.
Ms. Bermudez recently answered the door in her best business clothes and handed
a reporter her résumé, which she distributes by the ream. It notes she was once
a “million-dollar producer” and “deals well with the unexpected.”
“I went from making $180,000 to relying on food stamps,” she said. “Without that
government program, I wouldn’t be able to feed my children.”
Matthew Ericson contributed research.
Living on Nothing but
Food Stamps, NYT, 3.1.2010,
The Safety Net
Food Stamp Use Soars
and Stigma Fades
November 29, 2009
The New York Times
By JASON DePARLE
and ROBERT GEBELOFF
MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every
month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in
eight Americans and one in four children.
It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as
ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous
plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters
in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.
Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their
eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They
include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the
chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose
reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.
While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in
better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s
stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it
easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from
the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress
enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering
Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.
There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the
population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data
collected by The New York Times.
The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley
County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600
residents receive food stamps.
In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more
than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River
cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more
receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40
percent of children receive aid.
While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially
swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50
small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last
two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds.
These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most
of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a
150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.
Although the program is growing at a record rate, the federal official who
oversees it would like it to grow even faster.
“I think the response of the program has been tremendous,” said Kevin Concannon,
an under secretary of agriculture, “but we’re mindful that there are another 15,
16 million who could benefit.”
Nationwide, food stamps reach about two-thirds of those eligible, with rates
ranging from an estimated 50 percent in California to 98 percent in Missouri.
Mr. Concannon urged lagging states to do more to enroll the needy, citing a
recent government report that found a sharp rise in Americans with inconsistent
access to adequate food.
“This is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the
exception of the Depression,” he said. “It’s time for us to face up to the fact
that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”
The program’s growing reach can be seen in a corner of southwestern Ohio where
red state politics reign and blue-collar workers have often called food stamps a
sign of laziness. But unemployment has soared, and food stamp use in a
six-county area outside Cincinnati has risen more than 50 percent.
With most of his co-workers laid off, Greg Dawson, a third-generation
electrician in rural Martinsville, considers himself lucky to still have a job.
He works the night shift for a contracting firm, installing freezer lights in a
chain of grocery stores. But when his overtime income vanished and his expenses
went up, Mr. Dawson started skimping on meals to feed his wife and five
He tried to fill up on cereal and eggs. He ate a lot of Spam. Then he went to
work with a grumbling stomach to shine lights on food he could not afford. When
an outreach worker appeared at his son’s Head Start program, Mr. Dawson gave in.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Mr. Dawson, 29, a taciturn man with a wispy goatee who
is so uneasy about the monthly benefit of $300 that he has not told his parents.
“I always thought it was people trying to milk the system. But we just felt like
we really needed the help right now.”
The outreach worker is a telltale sign. Like many states, Ohio has campaigned
hard to raise the share of eligible people collecting benefits, which are
financed entirely by the federal government and brought the state about $2.2
billion last year.
By contrast, in the federal cash welfare program, states until recently bore the
entire cost of caseload growth, and nationally the rolls have stayed virtually
flat. Unemployment insurance, despite rapid growth, reaches about only half the
jobless (and replaces about half their income), making food stamps the only aid
many people can get — the safety net’s safety net.
Support for the food stamp program reached a nadir in the mid-1990s when
critics, likening the benefit to cash welfare, won significant restrictions and
sought even more. But after use plunged for several years, President Bill
Clinton began promoting the program, in part as a way to help the working poor.
President George W. Bush expanded that effort, a strategy Mr. Obama has
The revival was crowned last year with an upbeat change of name. What most
people still call food stamps is technically the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program, or SNAP.
By the time the recession began, in December 2007, “the whole message around
this program had changed,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a Washington group that has supported food stamp expansions. “The
general pitch was, ‘This program is here to help you.’ ”
Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks, 15
percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about $130 a month
for each person in the household, but vary with shelter and child care costs.
In the promotion of the program, critics see a sleight of hand.
“Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s
really not different from cash welfare,” said Robert Rector of the Heritage
Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill.
“Food stamps is quasi money.”
Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps
should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance.
“The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on
poverty,” he said.
Suburbs Are Hit Hard
Across the country, the food stamp rolls can be read like a scan of a sick
economy. The counties of northwest Ohio, where car parts are made, take sick
when Detroit falls ill. Food stamp use is up by about 60 percent in Erie County
(vibration controls), 77 percent in Wood County (floor mats) and 84 percent in
hard-hit Van Wert (shifting components and cooling fans).
Just west, in Indiana, Elkhart County makes the majority of the nation’s
recreational vehicles. Sales have fallen more than half during the recession,
and nearly 30 percent of the county’s children are receiving food stamps.
The pox in southwest Florida is the housing bust, with foreclosure rates in Fort
Myers often leading the nation in the last two years. Across six contiguous
counties from Manatee to Monroe, the food stamp rolls have more than doubled.
In sheer numbers, growth has come about equally from places where food stamp use
was common and places where it was rare. Since 2007, the 600 counties with the
highest percentage of people on the rolls added 1.3 million new recipients. So
did the 600 counties where use was lowest.
The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a
small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household
income in the South. (One author dubbed it “Whitopia.”) Food stamp use there has
more than doubled.
This is the first recession in which a majority of the poor in metropolitan
areas live in the suburbs, giving food stamps new prominence there. Use has
grown by half or more in dozens of suburban counties from Boston to Seattle,
including such bulwarks of modern conservatism as California’s Orange County,
where the rolls are up more than 50 percent.
While food stamp use is still the exception in places like Orange County (where
4 percent of the population get food aid), the program reaches deep in places of
chronic poverty. It feeds half the people in stretches of white Appalachia, in a
Yupik-speaking region of Alaska and on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in
Across the 10 core counties of the Mississippi Delta, 45 percent of black
residents receive aid. In a city as big as St. Louis, the share is 60 percent.
Use among children is especially high. A third of the children in Louisiana,
Missouri and Tennessee receive food aid. In the Bronx, the rate is 46 percent.
In East Carroll Parish, La., three-quarters of the children receive food stamps.
A recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St.
Louis, startled some policy makers in finding that half of Americans receive
food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children,
the figure was 90 percent.
Need Overcomes Scorn
Across the small towns and rolling farmland outside Cincinnati, old disdain for
the program has collided with new needs. Warren County, the second-richest in
Ohio, is so averse to government aid that it turned down a federal stimulus
grant. But the market for its high-end suburban homes has sagged, people who
build them are idle and food stamp use has doubled.
Next door, in Clinton County, the blow has been worse. DHL, the international
package carrier, has closed most of its giant airfield, costing the county its
biggest employer and about 7,500 jobs. The county unemployment rate nearly
tripled, to more than 14 percent.
“We’re seeing people getting food stamps who never thought they’d get them,”
said Tina Osso, the director of the Shared Harvest Food Bank in Fairfield, which
runs an outreach program in five area counties.
While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work
sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his
health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about
$400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps
help fill the gap.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the
program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to
get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing
man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their
carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda.
“To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get
renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called
them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at
that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.
Still, the program has filled the Dawsons’ home with fresh fruit, vegetables,
bread and meat, and something they had not fully expected — an enormous sense of
relief. “I know if I run out of milk, I could run down to the gas station,” said
Mr. Dawson’s wife, Sheila.
As others here tell it, that is a benefit not to be overlooked.
Sarah and Tyrone Mangold started the year on track to make $70,000 — she was
selling health insurance, and he was working on a heating and air conditioning
crew. She got laid off in the spring, and he a few months later. Together they
had one unemployment check and a blended family of three children, including one
with a neurological disorder aggravated by poor nutrition.
They ate at his mother’s house twice a week. They pawned jewelry. She scoured
the food pantry. He scrounged for side jobs. Their frustration peaked one night
over a can of pinto beans. Each blamed the other when that was all they had to
“We were being really snippy, having anxiety attacks,” Ms. Mangold said. “People
get irritable when they’re hungry.”
Food stamps now fortify the family income by $623 a month, and Mr. Mangold, who
is still patching together odd jobs, no longer objects.
“I always thought people on public assistance were lazy,” he said, “but it helps
me know I can feed my kids.”
So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth. Almost 90
percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a
year for a family of four). But a minor tempest hit Ohio’s Warren County after a
woman drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she
owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and
cars, she qualified.
“I’m a hard-core conservative Republican guy — I found that appalling,” said
Dave Young, a member of the county board of commissioners, which briefly
threatened to withdraw from the federal program.
“As soon as people figure out they can vote representatives in to give them
benefits, that’s the end of democracy,” Mr. Young said. “More and more people
will be taking, and fewer will be producing.”
At the same time, the recession left Sandi Bernstein more sympathetic to the
needy. After years of success in the insurance business, Ms. Bernstein, 66, had
just settled into what she had expected to be a comfortable retirement when the
financial crisis last year sent her brokerage accounts plummeting. Feeling newly
vulnerable herself, she volunteered with an outreach program run by AARP and the
Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks.
Having assumed that poor people clamored for aid, she was surprised to find that
some needed convincing to apply.“I come here and I see people who are
knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed,” she said. “These are people I
could be having lunch with.”
That could describe Franny and Shawn Wardlow, whose house in nearby Oregonia
conjures middle-American stability rather than the struggle to meet basic needs.
Their three daughters have heads of neat blond hair, pink bedroom curtains and a
turtle bought in better times on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla. One wrote a
fourth-grade story about her parents that concluded “They lived happily ever
Ms. Wardlow, who worked at a nursing home, lost her job first. Soon after, Mr.
Wardlow was laid off from the construction job he had held for nearly nine
years. As Ms. Wardlow tells the story of the subsequent fall — cutoff threats
from the power company, the dinners of egg noodles, the soap from the Salvation
Army — she dwells on one unlikely symbol of the security she lost.
“I was raised on eating pot roast,” she said. “Just a nice decent meal.”
Mr. Wardlow, 32, is a strapping man with a friendly air. He talked his way into
a job at an envelope factory although his boss said he was overqualified. But it
pays less than what he made muscling a jackhammer, and with Ms. Wardlow still
jobless, they are two months behind on the rent. A monthly food stamp benefit of
$429 fills the shelves and puts an occasional roast on the Sunday table.
It reminds Ms. Wardlow of what she has lost, and what she hopes to regain.
“I would consider us middle class at one time,” she said. “I like to have a nice
decent meal for dinner.”
Matthew Ericson and Janet Roberts contributed reporting.
Across U.S., Food Stamp
Use Soars and Stigma Fades,
Stamps Buy Less,
and Families Are Hit Hard
The New York Times
By LESLIE KAUFMAN
meet on food stamps has never been easy for Cassandra Johnson, but since food
prices began their steep climb earlier this year, she has had to develop new
She hunts for items that are on the shelf beyond their expiration dates because
their prices are often reduced, a practice she once avoided.
Ms. Johnson, 44, who works in customer service for a medical firm, knows that
buying food this way is not healthy, but she sees no other choice if she wants
to feed herself and her 1-year-old niece Ammni Harris and 2-year-old nephew
Tramier Harris, who live with her.
“I live paycheck to paycheck,” said Ms. Johnson, as she walked out of a market
near her home in Hackensack, N.J., pushing both Ammni and the week’s groceries
in a shopping cart. “And we’re not coping.”
The sharp rise in food prices is being felt acutely by poor families on food
stamps, the federal food assistance program.
In the past year, the cost of food for what the government considers a minimum
nutritional diet has risen 7.2 percent nationwide. It is on track to become the
largest increase since 1989, according to April data, the most recent numbers,
from the United States Department of Agriculture. The prices of certain staples
have risen even more. The cost of eggs, for example, has increased nearly 20
percent, and the price of milk and other dairy products has risen 10 percent.
But food stamp allocations, intended to cover only minimum needs, have not
changed since last fall and will not rise again until October, when an increase
linked to inflation will take effect. The percentage, equal to the annual rise
in prices for the minimum nutritional food basket as measured each June, is
usually announced by early August.
Some advocates and politicians say that this relief will not come soon enough
and will probably not be adequate to keep pace with inflation.
Stacy Dean, the director of food assistance for the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a Washington social issues research and advocacy organization,
estimates that the rising food prices have resulted in two fewer bags of
groceries a month for the families most reliant on the program.
“We know food stamps are falling short $34 a month” of the monthly $576 that the
government says it costs a family of four to eat nutritional meals, she said.
“The sudden price increases on top of everything else like soaring fuel and
health care have meant squeeze and strain that is unprecedented since the late
The declining buying power of food stamps has not gone unrecognized in
Washington. In May, Congress passed a farm bill that would raise the minimum
amount of food stamps that families receive, starting in October. The bill,
which was passed over President Bush’s veto, will also raise for the first time
since 1996 the amount of income that families of fewer than four can keep for
costs like housing or fuel without having their benefits reduced.
This month, a coalition led by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. called on
Congress to immediately enact a temporary 20 percent increase in food stamps.
Officials at the Agriculture Department, which administers the program, say
there is no precedent for such an action. Families on food stamps have been hit
hard across the nation, but perhaps not as hard as families in New York, where
food costs are substantially higher than prices almost everywhere else,
including other urban areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a
research and advocacy group in Washington.
The more than one million New Yorkers on food stamps receive on average $107 a
month in assistance, which is slightly higher than the average for the rest of
the country. But it is not enough to close the gap in food costs, experts say.
Poor families interviewed in the New York area say that they are not going
hungry — thanks in large part to the city’s strong network of 1,200 soup
kitchens and food pantries — but that they have really felt the pinch. To cope,
many say, they are doing without the basics.
June Jacobs-Cuffee of Brooklyn shares $120 a month in food stamps with her
19-year-old epileptic son. She says that even after her once-a-month trip to the
food pantry at St. John’s Bread & Life in Brooklyn, she has had to give up red
meat and is also cutting back on buying fresh fruits and sticking instead with
canned goods and fruit cocktail.
“It is not a question of running out, yet,” she said. “But it does require very
The most recent census data showed that from 2003 to 2006 an average of 1.3
million New Yorkers identified themselves as “food insecure,” meaning that they
were worried about being able to buy enough food to keep their families
adequately fed. City officials are concerned that the food price increase has
caused that number to increase significantly.
“I am much more worried about the state of hunger in New York City than I was 6
or 12 months ago,” said Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker. Ms. Quinn
said that food pantries were increasingly complaining about being tapped out.
She added, “What we are hearing from constituents is that they are having to
make tougher and tougher decisions like to water down milk for kids or not
purchase medication to keep money for food.”
Yessenia Villar, who lives in Washington Heights and works tutoring children in
Spanish and English, knows about tough choices. She says it is getting harder to
stretch her monthly $190 in food stamps to cover food for herself, her mother
and her 5-year-old daughter. At the end of the month, she runs out of oil, rice
and, most painful of all, plantains, which have gone from five for $1 to two for
$1, she says.
She says she has stopped buying extras like summer sandals for herself, and has
also given up treats like cookies and ice cream for her daughter. “I used to
make all my groceries for $150 a month and then have a little extra,” she said.
“Now it is, like, crazy.”
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
Food Stamps Buy Less, and Families Are Hit Hard,
More Americans Seek Help
May 7, 2008
Filed at 7:26 a.m. ET
The New York Times
(Reuters) - Carolyn Stanley, a single mother with five children, receives $327
in food stamps each month to feed her family. With prices for staples like bread
and cheese going ever higher, each month is harder than the last.
She buys hot dogs over higher-quality meat and feeds her kids cereal, but even
with other government support she often has to seek help from local churches and
"The food runs out somewhere within the middle of the month, or getting close to
the end," said Stanley, 49. "It is not easy. I pray."
While food inflation is causing tensions and riots around the world, even the
affluent United States is being touched. Stories such as Stanley's are becoming
more common as Americans increasingly turn to food stamps and other programs to
make ends meet.
At a cost of about $39 billion to the U.S. Treasury, nearly one in 10 Americans
-- 28 million people -- are expected next year to use food stamps, which would
be the highest enrolment in the program apart from a spike after the Gulf Coast
hurricanes of 2005.
U.S. food prices are expected to rise by up to 5 percent this year, part of a
global trend driven fueled by consumption in rapidly developing countries such
as China, adverse weather, and the funneling of food crops to make biofuels.
"People don't want to talk about hunger in America because that's not supposed
to have happened. Didn't we take care of that a generation or two ago?" said
Kevin McGuire, Food Stamp director for Maryland. "Well, not really." The number
of beneficiaries jumped 12 percent in Maryland from a year ago.
The crunch comes as the economy takes a sharp turn for the worse and many see
the number of people receiving food stamps as advance indicator of an economic
Today, food stamp officials are not only watching more people apply for the
benefits, they're seeing more of them come from the working poor, people whose
low-wage jobs still leave them eligible under the program's strict income caps.
"Having a job isn't enough anymore. Having two or three jobs isn't enough
anymore," said Marcia Paulson, spokeswoman for Great Plains Food Bank in North
Dakota, where nearly half the households on food stamps have at least one adult
with a job.
"Our pantries are overwhelmed," said Diane Doherty, director of the Illinois
Hunger Coalition, which helps the needy find food assistance and sign up for
Doherty said people's food stamps are running out more quickly due to higher
prices -- often within two weeks. More than ever are receiving stamps for the
first time, she said.
"They're just not able to make ends meet when they're trying to raise a family
on these meager salaries, with the cost of housing and now with the cost of
gas," she said.
Maryland's McGuire is one official who believes that the annual adjustments in
food stamp dollars have been inadequate.
Nationally, the average benefit per person early this year was about $100 per
month -- around $1 a meal.
The government will adjust that payout in June, but people won't see their
benefits change until October.
Stanley, who receives no child support for her daughters, the youngest of whom
is in the first grade, hopes that federal officials will act more quickly.
"If you've ever lived the crunch of that poverty level, you would understand
that people need more," Stanley said.
PARTLY BEHIND GROWING ROLLS
Program officials are quick to stress that food stamps were never intended to
make up a family's entire food budget, and point to other programs that can help
needy families -- school lunches, after-school programs, and food banks.
"We firmly believe that no American should go hungry," said Kate Houston, a
deputy undersecretary at USDA.
The growing rolls of food stamp beneficiaries is a mixed picture, Houston said,
reflecting in part a success in reaching out to eligible people who hadn't
received help in the past.
"The program is designed to expand and contract based on economic conditions,"
House and Senate lawmakers, forging a final compromise on a giant agriculture
law, now plan to add over $10 billion to the food stamp program over the next
decade, raising the standard income deduction, boosting the minimum benefit to
$14 a month, an increase of $4, and giving more to food pantry donations.
Food stamp officials are counseling people on how to make their stamps last as
long as possible -- buying ground beef or other meat when it's on sale and
freezing it, for example.
That may be cold comfort for people like Sandra Fowler, 42, a mother in suburban
Chicago who recently applied for food stamps, and describes her situation as
Fowler is months behind on mortgage payments on her house and is going through a
"It will feed my children, at least. I've been going to a food pantry, waiting
in line. The choices are really limited -- there might be some eggs, canned
goods," she said.
Most experts predict that high crop and fuel prices will linger for at least two
to three years, and sky-high oil and gasoline prices are unlikely to abate any
Even in the country known as the 'land of plenty,' McGuire said, the cost crunch
"affects literally at a gut level what's going on" for the less fortunate.
"We're going to need to start stitching the safety net a little bit bigger."
(Reporting by Missy Ryan;
Additional reporting by Andrew Stern in Chicago
Carey Gillam in Kansas City;
Editing by Russell Blinch and Eddie Evans.)
In Food Price Crunch, More Americans Seek Help,
at Record Pace
as Jobs Vanish
The New York Times
By ERIK ECKHOLM
Driven by a
painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans
receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the
highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.
The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for
benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years
along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural
disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.
But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic
slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic
goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in
unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued
increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting
Oct. 1 — to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.
The percentage of Americans receiving food stamps was higher after a recession
in the 1990s, but actual numbers are expected to be higher this year.
Federal benefit costs are projected to rise to $36 billion in the 2009 fiscal
year from $34 billion this year.
“People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go
down because their hours are cut,” said Stacy Dean, director of food stamp
policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who noted
that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.
One example is Michigan, where one in eight residents now receives food stamps.
“Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we’re at an all-time record
level,” said Maureen Sorbet, spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human
The climb in food stamp recipients there has been relentless, through economic
upturns and downturns, reflecting a steady loss of industrial jobs that has
pushed recipient levels to new highs in Ohio and Illinois as well.
“We’ve had poverty here for a good while,” Ms. Sorbet said. Contributing to the
rise, she added, Michigan, like many other states, has also worked to make more
low-end workers aware of their eligibility, and a switch from coupons to
electronic debit cards has reduced the stigma.
Some states have experienced more recent surges. From December 2006 to December
2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona,
Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth
was 10 percent or more.
In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last
two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the
population. This is the highest total in the last dozen years or more, said Bob
McDonough, the state’s administrator of family and adult services, and reflects
both a strong enlistment effort and an upward creep in unemployment.
In New York, a program to promote enrollment increased food stamp rolls earlier
in the decade, but the current climb in applications appears in part to reflect
economic hardship, said Michael Hayes, spokesman for the Office of Temporary and
Disability Assistance. The additional 67,000 clients added from July 2007 to
January of this year brought total recipients to 1.86 million, about one in 10
Nutrition and poverty experts praise food stamps as a vital safety net that
helped eliminate the severe malnutrition seen in the country as recently as the
1960s. But they also express concern about what they called the gradual erosion
of their value.
Food stamps are an entitlement program, with eligibility guidelines set by
Congress and the federal government paying for benefits while states pay most
Eligibility 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.
As a share of the national population, food stamp use was highest in 1994, after
several years of poor economic growth, with an average of 27.5 million
recipients per month from a lower total of residents. The numbers plummeted in
the late 1990s as the economy grew and legal immigrants and certain others were
But access by legal immigrants has been partly restored and, in the current
decade, the federal and state governments have used advertising and other
measures to inform people of their eligibility and have often simplified
Because they spend a higher share of their incomes on basic needs like food and
fuel, low-income Americans have been hit hard by soaring gasoline and heating
costs and jumps in the prices of staples like milk, eggs and bread.
At the same time, average family incomes among the bottom fifth of the
population have been stagnant or have declined in recent years at levels around
$15,500, said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in
The benefit levels, which can amount to many hundreds of dollars for families
with several children, are adjusted each June according to the price of a
bare-bones “thrifty food plan,” as calculated by the Department of Agriculture.
Because food prices have risen by about 5 percent this year, benefit levels will
rise similarly in June — months after the increase in costs for consumers.
Advocates worry more about the small but steady decline in real benefits since
1996, when the “standard deduction” for living costs, which is subtracted from
family income to determine eligibility and benefit levels, was frozen. If that
deduction had continued to rise with inflation, the average mother with two
children would be receiving an additional $37 a month, according to the private
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Both houses of Congress have passed bills that would index the deduction to the
cost of living, but the measures are part of broader agriculture bills that
appear unlikely to pass this year because of disagreements with the White House
over farm policy.
Another important federal nutrition program known as WIC, for women, infants and
children, is struggling with rising prices of milk and cheese, and growing
The program, for households with incomes no higher than 185 percent of the
federal poverty level, provides healthy food and nutrition counseling to 8.5
million pregnant women, and children through the age of 4. WIC is not an
entitlement like food stamps, and for the fiscal year starting in October,
Congress may have to approve a large increase over its current budget of $6
billion if states are to avoid waiting lists for needy mothers and babies.
Food Stamp Use at Record Pace as Jobs Vanish,
Hunger and Food Stamps
May 13, 2007
The New York Times
If you think people do not go hungry in America, you’re wrong. At last count
in 2005, 35 million low-income Americans — about a third of them children —
lived in households that cannot consistently afford enough to eat. Since 2005,
the situation has most likely become worse. Last year, real wages for low-income
workers were still below 2001 levels. This year, job growth is slowing and
prices are rising.
And each year, the federal food stamp program — the bulwark against hunger for
26 million Americans — does less to help. In large part, that is because a key
component of the formula for computing most families’ food stamps has not been
adjusted for inflation since 1996. Over all, food stamps now average a meager
$1.05 per person per meal.
Bolstering food stamps must be Congress’s top priority in this year’s farm bill,
the mammoth legislation that covers the food stamp program.
Most important, lawmakers must stop the erosion in the purchasing power of food
stamps, either by pegging the benefit formula to inflation or by making a big
increase in the formula’s standard deduction. In 2002, when the last farm bill
was passed, Congress improved the benefit formula for households with four or
more people. But nearly 80 percent of all food stamp households have three or
fewer members. It is unacceptable that their food stamps buy less food each
Congress should also repeal the provision that imposes a five-year residency
requirement on otherwise eligible adult legal immigrants. (Illegal immigrants
are not eligible for food stamps.) The children of such immigrants — 80 percent
of whom are United States citizens — can receive food stamps without waiting.
But confusion over the rules keeps many of them out of the program. The
Department of Agriculture reports that of the children of immigrant parents who
are citizens and eligible for food stamps, only 52 percent got them in 2004,
compared with 82 percent of eligible children over all.
Taken together, those two reforms would cost roughly $3 billion over the next
five years. In the competitive frenzy of a farm bill, that is money lawmakers
would be inclined to fight over. But Democrats and Republicans alike must
realize that improving food stamps is a moral and economic necessity. Food stamp
allotments were cut in 1996 to free up money to ease the transition from welfare
to work. But since then, food stamps themselves have become a crucial support
for working families. Among food stamp households with children, twice as many
work as rely solely on welfare.
Inadequate aid affects not only the amount of food a family can buy, but also
the types of purchases. With too few dollars to spend, junk food becomes the
best value because it is calorie dense, cheap and imperishable.
Adjustments around the edges of the food stamp program will not be enough.
President Bush has proposed exempting families’ meager retirement savings when
calculating whether they are poor enough for food stamps. He also wants to allow
families to deduct their full child care costs from the benefit calculation.
Both changes would be helpful and Congress should embrace them. But Congress
also needs to make much bigger changes, now.
Hunger and Food Stamps,
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