Category Archives: Politics & food justice

Taking Food Out of Poor Kids’ Mouths

By Randy Rosenthal

The US Department of Agriculture has proposed restricting access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as “food stamps”) on the ostensible grounds that it is necessary to close a loophole in the program. But the real reason, it appears, is an ideological commitment to lowering taxes on the rich and cutting government spending on the poor. 

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Back in 1964, President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty, which aimed to eradicate the conditions of poverty by providing American citizens with access to food, education, and a secure retirement. Today, the Trump Administration is leading a War against the Poor, which aims to do the opposite. The most recent and blatant act in this war is the US Department of Agriculture’s proposal to restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

On July 23, the USDA released a statement about the proposal, which aims to save $2.5 billion by taking 3 million people off of food stamps. The statement doesn’t mention it, but 500,000 of these people are children who will automatically lose access to free school lunches.

The ostensible rationale behind the proposal is that there is “a loophole” that needs to be closed: low income participants receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible for food stamps. Because of this policy, which is designed to help transition families toward economic independence, the USDA claims that people are receiving assistance when they clearly don’t need it. To support this claim, they point to a Minnesota man who enrolled in the program, even though he was a millionaire.

In a statement explaining the proposal, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (who has a net worth of somewhere between $11 million and $53 million) said, “we are changing the rules, preventing abuse of a critical safety net system, so those who need food assistance the most are the only ones who receive it.” After all, he said, “The American people expect the government to be fair, efficient, and have integrity.” How can someone argue with that? It sounds good. But it’s not. In fact, it’s the height of hypocrisy and deviousness.

First of all, if a family qualifies for TANF, they are by definition needy, and therefore need food stamps. Second, who is this Minnesota man? His name is Rob Undersander. On the application, he stated his income, which was low because he is retired, and did not state his assets, which is not required in the form. He then received SNAP benefits for 18 months, simply to show he could waste tax-payer money. Bravo. But how many other people would spend their time applying for a program they don’t need? Probably no one. More importantly, Undersander did not apply for or receive TANF benefits, and so the loophole that is supposedly being closed has nothing to do with his case. That is, the stated rationale behind the proposal is fallacious.

In truth, the recent proposal is part of a larger Republican war on the poor. For instance, back in May, the Administration proposed regulatory changes to redefine the formula for calculating poverty. If they could lower the official poverty line by adjusting how inflation is measured, then fewer people would officially qualify as poor, resulting in fewer people eligible for benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Currently, a family of four with an income of $25,750 or less is considered poor and eligible for government programs. There are about 40 million Americans considered to be living in poverty, or about 12% of our population. That’s a huge number of people who are struggling, among them parents who cannot afford to provide food for their children. That’s why we have such programs as SNAP and offer free school lunches, because, obviously, if kids can’t eat a decent meal, they can’t learn. About 38 million Americans receive food stamps, and 56% of SNAP benefits go to households at or below half of the poverty line. Yet SNAP not only benefits people in poverty, it prevents it, keeping 8.4 million people out of poverty in 2015, including 3.8 million children.

But SNAP does more than provide food and help people get out of poverty. It actually greatly helps the economy. In fact, SNAP benefits are considered one of the fastest and most effective forms of economic stimulus. According to the USDA’s own Economic Research Service, $1 billion of SNAP benefits creates 8,900-17,900 full-time jobs, and every $5 of SNAP benefits generates $9 in total economic activity. Conversely, for every $1 billion in cuts to SNAP funding, 11,437 jobs would be destroyed. This means that the Trump Administration’s recent proposal would actually result in a loss of about 28,590 jobs. Finally, as a share of our GDP, SNAP spending has been steadily decreasing, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and is not contributing to long-term budgetary pressures.

So the question is: Why would we want to literally be taking food out of poor children’s mouths? Why take food off the tables of low-income families? Why are millionaires and billionaires fighting a war against the poor? Whether a family has an annual income of $20,000 or $40,000, life for them is hard. So why make things harder for people who are already having a hard time?

It’s not simply to save $2.5 billion. If the Trump Administration really cared about saving tax-payer dollars, they wouldn’t have increased military spending by $164 billion since 2016, proposing to spend an irresponsible $750 billion on defense in 2020. And they would not have recently passed tax-cuts that will cost the federal government $17 billion. These tax cuts mostly benefit millionaires, and so in essence, what the Trump Administration is saying with these proposals is this: Let’s take from the poor and give to the rich. It’s a reverse Robin Hood.

No, the reason behind this proposal is not practical but ideological. It is not because the administration wants to be fair, efficient, and have integrity, but because conservatives are blindly devoted to lowering taxes and cutting programs designed to help the poor. And due to this obsessive commitment to an abstract idea, millions of actual human beings will suffer.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

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It’s Time to Reawaken the Spirit of Occupy for the Starving Millions

Adam Parsons

04 May 2017

How is it possible that so many people still die from severe malnutrition and lack of access to basic resources in the 21st century? The time has come, the author argues, for a huge resurgence of the spirit that animated the Occupy protests from 2011, but now focused on the worsening reality of mass starvation in the midst of plenty.


The world is now facing an unprecedented emergency of hunger and famine, with a record number of people requiring life-saving food and medical assistance in 2017. Since the start of this year, the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war has continued to unfold, while the international community has failed to take urgent commensurate action. The extent of human suffering is overwhelming: more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation, including 1.4 million children – a conservative estimate that is rising by the day. Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, and could soon follow in Somalia, north-east Nigeria and Yemen.

In February, the UN launched its biggest ever appeal for humanitarian funding, calling for $4.4 billion by July to avert looming famines in these four conflict-ridden regions. Yet not even $1 billion has been raised so far, leaving little hope that these vital minimum funds will be raised on time. Last week the UN also sought to raise $2.1 billion for the funding shortfall in Yemen alone – described as the single largest hunger crisis in the world, where two thirds of the population are food insecure. But even this appeal remains barely half funded, which will almost certainly leave millions of neglected Yemeni’s facing the prospect of dying from starvation or disease.
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A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading

Poor Farmers Facing Mysterious Illness Across Two Continents

Charles W. Elliott

We’re following a story that continues to emerge from Sri Lanka, India, and Central America of a mysterious illness striking down tens of thousands of poor farm workers, destroying their kidneys. The victims are often young, male outdoor farm workers, far removed from the usual patient with severe kidney failure: older, sedentary men with a history of diabetes or hypertension. What would connect these dying farm workers in different countries across two continents?

Dambj_20120501_9681Photo credit: Anna Barry-Jester, Center for Public Integrity

A recent study estimated that the ailment, called “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology” (CKDu) has killed more than 20,000 people in Central America alone.

We invite you to watch this five-minute video “Mystery in the Fields” from the Center for Public Integrity that explains the problem and shows its devastating human impact on poor families and communities.[1]


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Every Human Life Has Value

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In recent weeks the world has been rocked by deeds of horrific violence, which have had tragic consequences and brought fear and sorrow into the lives of people everywhere. Yet sudden acts of terrorist violence are not the only type of random destruction occurring today. Structures of domination and exploitation impose a kind of subtle violence that also take many innocent lives as their toll. What unifies both terrorism and systemic violence is a refusal to recognize that every person is an irreplaceable center of subjective experience and thus a bearer of intrinsic value. 

Over the past two weeks, deeds of horrific violence have erupted across the globe, tearing at the strings of the heart. A suicide bombing in Ankara on March 13 killed forty people, the latest in a series of bombings in Turkish cities. Two suicide bombings took place in Brussels a week ago, at the airport and on a train, killing more than thirty, turning an ordinary business day into a nightmare. On Easter Sunday in Lahore, a major city in Pakistan, a suicide bombing in a park claimed the lives of more than seventy people, most of them women and children enjoying a family outing. Another suicide bombing in a soccer stadium in Iraq, south of Baghdad, killed thirty, mostly youngsters.

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Mourners in Pakistan after bombing at park in Lahore

Such deeds testify to a shocking disregard for human life that has spread like wildfire from country to country. These acts of senseless violence leave us speechless, stricken with grief for the victims, shaken by sorrow, anxious perhaps that in the weeks and months ahead we ourselves might just happen to find ourselves standing at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the number of lives these deeds of desperate cruelty claim, while shocking, is still miniscule compared to another kind of violence that is all the more pernicious because it does not strike suddenly out of the blue but creeps up slowly, imperceptibly, like a viper hidden in the grass. This is the violence, often lethal violence, inflicted by global systems and institutions that are considered normal, inevitable, and even respectable. Continue reading

Pulses: The Key to Long Life and a Sustainable Environment

BGR Staff

In 2013 the United Nations declared that 2016 would be the International Year of Pulses. The hope of the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP 2016) is to position pulses as a primary source of protein and other essential nutrients. IYP 2016 will promote broad discussion and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels to increase awareness and understanding of the challenges faced by pulse farmers, be they large scale farms or small land holders.

Pulses and Nutrition

Pulses are part of a healthy, balanced diet and have been shown to have an important role in preventing illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Pulses are a low fat source of protein, with a high fiber content and low glycemic index. Pulses are very high in fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, and insoluble fiber helps with digestion and regularity.
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