Friday, May 4, 2012

Who are we helping?

(This post first appeared in Spanish in the May 6 issue of Al Día News.)

The numbers are shocking.

14.5 percent of households went hungry in 2010. That’s the highest number ever recorded in the United States.

Now, some members of House of Representatives are proposing to cut more than $35 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, which is the government’s best means of addressing hunger in our nation.

And, since you can’t sever hunger from poverty, here are some more numbers for you to think on: 46.9 million people were in poverty in 2010. This is the highest number in the 52 years the nation has tracked poverty numbers. Of those, 20.5 million live in extreme poverty. If we break down the poverty rates by demographic, we get this: Latinos 26.6 percent; African Americans 27.4 percent. The percentage of children living in poverty is 27.7 to 36.1 percent of the total population (depending which federal measure you use).

You might be tempted to think that the majority of those receiving food aid from the government are in the families of the unemployed. Think again. More than half of the families that receive help have at least one member of the family who is employed fulltime — many of them at low or minimum wage jobs — and still fall beneath the poverty line. How? According to the World Hunger Education Service’s “Hunger Notes” web site: ‘In 2008, the official U.S. poverty level for a family of 4 was $21,834 [...] with a 40 hour week, a family of 4 with one minimum wage earner would earn $15,080, only 69 percent of the poverty level.”

Some of those same members of the House Budget and House Agriculture Committee proposing the devastating cuts are saying that churches should be the ones taking responsibility for feeding the poor, not the government. Bread for the World, a faith-based organization that works to end hunger, estimates that “on average every church in the country would have to come up with approximately $50,000 dedicated to feeding people — every year for the next 10 years.” The thing is that many churches already do feed the poor on an ongoing basis, but proposing that they could make up what the House members are proposing to cut is disingenuous.

What do we pay individual income taxes to government for if not to help our nation provide for the basic needs of its people?

I’m going to give you some more figures (thanks to ProPublica): Fannie Mae, $116 billion disbursed; Freddie Mac, $71 billion; AIG, $68 billion; General Motors, $51 billion; Bank of America, $45 billion; Citigroup, $45 billion; JPMorgan Chase, $25 billion; Wells Fargo, $25 billion. Well, I could go on, but you catch my drift. The bailouts of the aforementioned corporate entities (and many others) took taxpayer money to restore interests considered vital to our nation. As we know from subsequent reports, a number of CEOs from those same corporations took home six figure bonuses at the same time as ordinary taxpayers were contributing our hard-earned dollars to bailing them out.

During my childhood, when my father would tell me about the United States, he talked about his country with pride and admiration. He was the first in his family to be born an American citizen and there was no place comparable to this one in his heart. I, an American citizen from birth but one who grew up in a nation with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America, understood from him that the United States was different. It was a country, he told me, that strove to protect and take care of its people. It had a governmental safety net and offered recourse for those in need. Moreover, he said, it was a country which didn’t choose to aid the powerful and influential at the expense of the ordinary citizen.

My father died in 2004, and I miss him every day. But I’m glad he’s not around to see how his fellow Republicans on that blasted House Budget and House Agriculture Committee are proposing to make a mockery of his words.

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