The War on Poverty is Back; This Time, It’s the People’s Burden

Feeding America reports that 15.9 million kids [in the United States] under the age of 18, [or one in five], are unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food necessary for a healthy life. Last month, Congress passed a sweeping “Farm Bill” that cut an additional $8.6 billion from SNAP, [or the] Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, over the next 10 years. This is on top of the $5 billion the program lost last November because the 2009 Recovery Act stimulus bill expired. Forty-seven million Americans currently participate in SNAP, up 47% since the [r]ecession started in 2008, [which] means that 15% of us rely on this program to eat. […]

We don’t have to be math whizzes to know that a 47% increase in participation, coupled with a reduction in the funding of $13.6 billion, spells misery for millions of Americans. This program has been the federal social safety net for low-income Americans, and now this safety net is beginning to tear.

The New York Times reports that more and more people are beginning to show up at soup kitchens and food pantries. The first reduction in November cut out 23 meals per month for a family of four. In New York City, the number of people seeking food aid grew by 85% after the November cuts, while 23% of the city’s food pantries and soup kitchens reduced the number of meals they provided. Food stamps were the signature program of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty” during the 1960s, which led to fewer poor children going hungry or having nutrition-related developmental delays. Birth weights also grew for children of poor mothers on food stamps.

As a nation, we can’t afford to go back to the nutritional standards before the “War on Poverty.” Luckily for us, our nonprofit organizations are stepping in and have created food banks to help fill the void continually shaped by Congress. The world’s first food bank started in 1967, right after the “War on Poverty” began. St. Mary’s Food Bank was started by John Van Hengel, who was volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix, serving dinners to those in need. A mother told him the soup kitchens and grocery store Dumpsters were the only way she could feed her children. John went to the local parish, St. Mary’s Basilica, and shared his vision of collecting food and money for food and depositing it where those in need could withdraw it. They gave John $3,000 and an abandoned building to get the food bank up and running. Today, food banks touch just about every corner of the United States.

Ozarks Food Harvest, one of the Feeding America food banks in Springfield, Mo., distributes food to 320 hunger-relief organizations across 29 Missouri counties, reaching 41,000 people a month. To help hungry children, they have a weekend backpack program, where they fill 1,500 backpacks with food so these underprivileged kids can have something to eat when they can’t eat at school. How can you not love an organization that takes care of others every day of the week?

Kentucky is setting an example for the rest of government in how to encourage its citizens to help others. Its legislature has made it easier for Kentuckians to donate to the Farms to Food Banks Program by just checking a box on their state tax returns to have part of their tax refunds […] automatically go to this program. This is how the government should behave in inspiring [its citizens] to help each other. […]

[Just last month], General Motors Foundation […] donated $500,000 to the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, [which serves] the people of metro[politan] Detroit. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida recently donated $250,000 to the Florida Association of Food Banks. The Alaska Federal Credit Union donated money to 17 food banks. Businesses with a conscience are beginning to step up to fill this massive void, but, so far, there is too big a gap to fill. We have got to make up the billions of dollars lost to support those in the most need in this new order of priorities created by Congress. We, as citizens of this fine country, need to create a new grassroots effort for this latest “War on Poverty.” Having 47 million Americans in need of food is not the country our forefathers envisioned. It is also not the country we want to leave to our children.

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