July 13, 2012
Let Them Eat Nothing: America’s Children Will Lose Out in New Farm Bill

 

The gnawing poverty of America’s families in the worst economy since the Great Depression seems to be invisible to many members of Congress.  The Agriculture Committee of the House of Representatives just approved a farm bill with $16.5 million in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP or food stamps.  In human terms 3 million Americans would lose food stamps, the majority of whom are children.  Further, 280,000 children would be denied free school lunches, for many their one reliable meal of the day.  With unemployment benefits drying up for parents, and only 80,000 new jobs recorded in June, millions of Americans must depend on food assistance until the economy — and they — can get back on their feet.  Yet, the new bill essentially declares, “Let them eat nothing.”

 

Yesterday’s New York Times article depicts the political considerations that have driven this draconian cut — considerations which may postpone a full vote by Congress until after November’s elections so that Republicans and Democrats do not have to face the consequences of either passing too big or too harsh a farm bill. Once reelected, who will care  if America’s children eat nothing?

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/13/us/politics/house-agriculture-committee-agrees-on-farm-bill.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120713

 

Share Our Strength cares and has become a leading national advocate for hungry children who have no political voice of their own.  CEO Bill Shore’s moving blog post conveys  the stories of real parents who are seeking  food stamps in desperation to feed their children.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/billy-shore/farm-bill-food-stamps_b_1665623.html

 

I remember that feeling of desperation when I applied for food stamps 33 years ago.  Just out of college, Jim and I were living on our own.  That  food assistance was our only reliable source of income for nine months or so before I found my first job.  As soon as I had my first paycheck, the subsidy stopped — but I will always remember and be grateful.  Supporting Share Our Strength is how we give it back.

 

Jim and I remain ardent supporters of Share Our Strength because it creates partnerships with state governors, service providers and the federal government to enroll eligible poor children for benefits and to make sure there remains No Kid Hungry in America during the worst recession in decades.  One added benefit  is that federal dollars are expended in states on local produce and food stuffs and become an economic stimulus in low-income communities.

 

Recently we visited Billy and Rosemary Shore for dinner at their summer cottage in Maine.  As the conversation turned to food stamps, I shared our experience 33 years ago.  We were touched that Billy, in turn, shared our story with his staff in the letter below.

 

Our dinner table in Maine is filled most nights with family and friends, and that often includes Share Our Strength supporters who happen to be passing through.  The menu is basic summer fare: chicken, chops, corn, fresh tomato and mozzarella salad, strawberry shortcake and homemade ice cream. But it’s the view that makes it all worthwhile, the ever changing light at sunset glistening off the ocean.

 

Last night we were joined by a husband and wife who visits each year, have been extremely successful in business, and recently turned their attention to philanthropy full-time.  They live modestly but have donated millions of dollars to a few good causes about which they are passionate.  Share Our Strength has long been a beneficiary of their generosity.

 

They asked about all that’s going on at Share Our Strength, and we debriefed them on our growth and the most recent efforts to bring new voices to the debate over SNAP, including  the more than 50,000 letters we generated to Congress, and the testimonials we were sent by more than 100 of those in our community who have been SNAP recipients.  With the legislative focus shifting to the House in a few weeks, our efforts to protect SNAP are more important than ever.

 

As she put her fork down, the wife looked up and said “we were on food stamps for almost a year when we were first married.”   The room got very quiet.

 

“Yeah, I was terrible at business when first starting out,” said the husband.

 

“So food stamps was how we got by” said she, a graduate of one of the nation’s most elite colleges.  “I remember the day I went to the office to enroll. Fortunately it was just temporary. We were on food stamps for less than a year. Maybe nine months.  Then things started to pick up for us.” They’ve been married more  than years, have four children, and have made a huge impact fighting poverty in the U.S. and overseas.

Part of Maine’s charm is that every time we visit, we discover something new and surprising, whether it’s gift from the sea that’s washed up on the beach, or someone bearing witness at our dinner table. Last evening was no different.

 

Billy