Archive for Friday, November 8, 2013

Editorial: Getting by

Food is a basic need, but food stamp cuts have some local residents wondering how they will continue to fill that need.

November 8, 2013


As the holidays approach, people tend to pay more attention to the needs of less fortunate local residents, but this month’s cuts in federal food stamp assistance are a reminder that, for some, having enough food to feed themselves and their families is a year-round concern.

In 2009, the federal economic stimulus package provided extra funding for the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Now that the recession is easing across the country, those funds are being withdrawn. The result is that a family of four that had been receiving $668 per month in food stamps, now will receive $632. That loss of $36 may not seem like much, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it equates to a loss of about 27 meals a month.

That’s quite a few meals to simply skip. In Douglas County, the reduction in food stamp funding amounts to 31,886 missed meals a month for the 8,659 people who receive assistance. That number includes about 3,500 children.

In addition to this month’s cuts, about 20,000 unemployed Kansans without children are losing food stamps because of the state’s recent decision not to seek renewal of a federal waiver that allowed them to receive that assistance. Last year, a change in the way the state determines eligibility for food stamps, resulted in assistance cuts for thousands of children living in households that contained a mixture of U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.

All of these factors have placed significant new pressures on non-profit organizations that provide food assistance. The largest such agency in Lawrence is Just Food, which serves as the city’s central food bank. To help deal with the expected upturn in demand for its services, Just Food officials are seeking additional donors willing to make monthly pledges.

Whether or not a monthly pledge fits into your budget, it’s a great time to consider stepping up with additional support for Just Food, LINK and other local agencies that assist residents who may otherwise go hungry. Many children get their main meals at school so vacations around Thanksgiving and Christmas likely will spur even more demand at local agencies.

Especially around the holidays, many of us would have to admit we often get too much to eat. We should all be concerned with children and families in our community having at least enough to get by.


Kate Rogge 4 years, 2 months ago

How cruel our government is to take food from the most needy among us. What on earth is gained by such ideological posturing? If they want to end dependency among able-bodied adults (who are the minority of those harmed by this new restriction), then HIRE them at a wage that allows them to support themselves and their families. Jobs or dependency. Take your pick.

Ted Morehouse 4 years, 2 months ago

They are not taking any food away, they are forcing welfare recipients to quit spending their stamps on crap like rotisserie chicken and instead buy cheaper, healthier goods like lentils.

John Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

Where ever the line is drawn with respect to a subsidy or entitlement program those just outside the line will probably not be happy. No doubt some outside the line would benefit from receiving the subsidy. Unfortunately the line has to be drawn somewhere. Similarly the amount of the benefit given could always be more. Who doesn't like more? Again a line has to be drawn somewhere. Whether SNAP, unemployment, social security, ACA subsidies etc it is always the same. Where ever the line is drawn some will say it is not fair and the amount given is never enough. Remember this is a "supplemental" program. It was never designed to be used as the sole source of funds for buying food. $150 per week may not be a lot as the sole amount spent to feed a family of four, but an additional $150 a week as a "supplement" to help buy food is a significant benefit.

The USDA this year released figures for the cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet including fresh fruits and vegetables. They report a "thrifty" plan cost of $146 per week, a "low" cost plan $191 per week, a "moderate" plan $239 per week and a "liberal" plan $289 per week. Based on USDA data SNAP subsidies will cover 100% of the cost of a "thrifty" plan, 78% of a "low" cost plan, 63% of a "moderate" plan and 52% of a "liberal" plan. Also one must remember the USDA data is for ALL meals and snacks for a family of four. This is a total of 84 meals per week for the entire family plus snacks. The two school age children will be receiving at least subsidized lunch and snacks while at school (total of 10 meals per week between the two children). In some cases the children will be receiving breakfast, lunch and snacks while at school (total of 20 meals per week between the two children). The subsidized meals at school cover 12% (just lunch) to 24% (breakfast and lunch) of the meals the SNAP funds are supposed to provide. Since 12-24% of the entire weekly meals are paid for by school subsidies, this means the family has more SNAP money to use per meal that the family actually has to provide. If one does the math, if the two children are receiving breakfast and lunch at school, the $150 per week SNAP money would allow the family to eat at a level between the "low" cost plan and the "moderate" plan solely using SNAP money.

In summary while SNAP funds may not be extravagant, the data from the USDA would show a family of four should be able to provide healthy meals without using anything but SNAP funds.

Kate Rogge 4 years, 2 months ago

What a crock, sir. Do you expect children to receive school meals during weekends, holidays, and the summer break? Do you expect the elderly and disabled to just cease being elderly or disabled? Should they all just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get sustaining jobs? And if incapable of getting and holding those mythical jobs, are they all to be just that much hungrier to impress upon them just how little value they have to us? The hypocritical and sanctimonious cant that food support is intended to be temporary aid just through a 'rough patch' is ridiculous. Taking food support away from the elderly, disabled, and children just to make an ideological point about "greedy takers" who have made the irresponsible bad choice to have grown old or to be handicapped or to be a child, forcryingoutloud, is both sick and sickening.

John Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

Kate, Thank you for not paying any attention to what I wrote before you called it a "crock". If you pay attention to what I wrote you would see I did NOT defend how the government decides who gets subsidies and who doesn't. I said where ever the line is drawn there would be some outside the line that could benefit from receiving the subsidies. I did not support where or how the current line has been drawn.

What I pointed out by using USDA data is the current amount of SNAP benefits, when given, is adequate to feed a family of four, three healthy meals including fresh fruit and vegetables as well as snacks without any money coming from the family's other income sources. I pointed out since the two children would be in school and likely receive subsidized meals that would allow the family to spend even more money per meal since 10-20 meals per week are provided by school when in session. The SNAP allowance provides adequate funding to feed a family of four three healthy meals and snacks even when the children are not in school.

Before you criticize someone at least first pay attention to what they said.

Kate Rogge 4 years, 2 months ago

Yes, you're right. I apologize. I should have written my comment - if written at all - as a statement of my beliefs apart from a reference to you and to your statement.

John Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

Thank you. It is clear Kate you are passionate about this topic. I was not trying to criticize your passion. I was simply trying to provide some background how SNAP may have come up with the amount of the weekly subsidy. I am not trying to defend how SNAP decides who gets the subsidies.

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 2 months ago

Billionaires Collect Millions In Taxpayer Dollars Through Farm Subsidies

The farm subsidies that are part of the federal farm bill paid at least $11.3 million to 50 separate billionaires or billionaire-owned businesses since 1995, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 2 months ago

The Social Safety Net Kept Millions Out Of Poverty Last Year

Without social safety net programs such as Social Security, food stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, and others, millions more people would be in poverty, according to latest supplemental poverty measure report from the Census Bureau.

The Census calculates a supplemental poverty measure (SPM) by taking various benefits and expenses into account, as well as geographical variety. That adjusted poverty rate was 16 percent in 2012, higher than the official measure of 15 percent.

The Census then breaks out the benefit of a variety of programs in reducing the rate. Social Security has the biggest impact, keeping 26.6 million people out of poverty and reducing the SPM poverty rate by 8.6 percentage points. Without it, the SPM poverty rate would be 24.5 percent.

John Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

There is a TV show on food network "Ten Dollar Dinners". It shows how one can make a complete meal for four on $10 or less. The meals appear substantial in quantity and attractive in appearance. I certainly would be happy to serve any meal they show to family or company without hesitation. The amount of money spent on the meal would place the dinner between the "low" and "moderate" level of cost based on USDA data. I mention this to support my above argument that with the two children receiving subsidized breakfast and lunch at school (I understand this does not happen with all children on all days or in all school districts), serving a substantial delicious meal funded only with SNAP funds is quite doable while staying on budget.

4 years, 2 months ago

it’s a great time to consider stepping up with additional support for Just Food, LINK and other local agencies that assist residents who may otherwise go hungry.

Do it. Make a donation. Give a set % of your own food budget to each of them, even if it means burger instead of steak one night a week.

Then find a family that needs your help and invite them to dinner. Invite them weekly, or invite a different family each week. Find out who cooks in their house and offer pointers on cooking and/or budgeting if they need it. Buy them a turkey or a ham for Thanksgiving and a crock pot for Christmas.

Bring an elderly neighbor a bag of groceries. Be sure to thank her for watching your house when you're gone, because whether you know it or not, she does.

Grow a garden and send your neighborhood kids home with fresh, healthy, non-GMO veggies. Share your apples and pears and walnuts.

And it's not just food. Young moms need diapers, everyone needs laundry soap and paper towels. Every kid can use a nice pair of shoes.

There's plenty you can do, but you have to do it.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

Thank you Bill, if everyone pitched it and did just one thing for someone it would be like a tsunami. But please don't invite them to dinner as this would likely embarrass them to be your "good deed" of the week. And, please don't assume that you know the intelligence level of all poor people and that they don't know how to cook

4 years, 2 months ago

"embarrass them to be your "good deed" of the week. "

Actually, the idea is to be their friend.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

Clipped from the article:
"That loss of $36 may not seem like much, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it equates to a loss of about 27 meals a month."

Division indicates that the USDA estimates a single meal can be prepared for only $1.33. There are four explanations for a $1.33 meal that I can think of:

A) There is a typo in the article or the USDA source. Or, the USDA is using a very optimistic estimate for the cost of food that was not based on any recent trips to the grocery store.

B) Some of the food was found in the dumpster.

C) You certainly don't eat much.

D) This is possibly the best explanation: I don't shop wisely at the grocery store, or I do not buy food that I consider to be distasteful.

John Graham noted above that there is a television show that instructs how to prepare a meal for four that amounts to $2.50 per person, or possibly slightly less. That's certainly a lot more than $1.33.

If there is a USDA publication or website that will teach me how to prepare a meal for only $1.33, I would certainly like to see it. It's quite possible that I really need help, because I consistently spend a large multiple of $1.33 per day on food that I would be very embarrassed to state in public. And, I always thought I was shopping reasonably wisely.

John Graham 4 years, 2 months ago

Ron, The math is 365 days per year / 12 months = 30.42 days per month. $632 SNAP dollars per month / 30.42 days= $20.77/day x 7 days per week = $145.43 per week for a family of four. This works out to $1.73 per meal, per person the government gives to help make food more affordable. Remember this is a subsidy meant to be "supplemental" not the sole source of funding for food for the family. In the entry above I simply made a quick calculation of $632 per month being approximately $150 per week. It was a rough approximation but close enough to the actual number of $145.43 to not alter the argument.

USDA in 2013 reports the weekly costs of food at the various "levels" as stated in the above entry. The argument I made above remains the same. If you have a problem with the numbers the USDA provides to feed a family of four then take it up with them. But based on their numbers SNAP provides adequate funding to feed a family of four. And again SNAP is a "supplement" not meant to be the sole source of funding for food.

You also take the $2.50 per person figure out of context that I outlined in detail above. I assume you do so in an attempt to discredit the argument. If you are going to make reference to it at least keep it in its context.

Ted Morehouse 4 years, 2 months ago

Many people with food stamps blow the stamps on crap. A family can easily live off less that $600 a month if they bought high quality raw goods, such as rice, lentils, other legumes, potatoes, yams, etc. No can go hungry on $600 a month unless they spend it unwisely. Your a moron if you cant make a meal for less than a $1, high quality lentils are 50 cents a pound...

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

What if you want to go crazy and have lentil soup and add some onions, carrots, celary, and a few spices for flavor? Or make potato soup, or a chowder, meatloaf, cassarole, bake breads?

If you only ate dried red beans and the cheapest franks in the store you might be able to make it, but I would not wish that on my worst enemy.

4 years, 2 months ago

Leslie: "And, please don't assume that you know the intelligence level of all poor people and that they don't know how to cook"

Actually, after working with the poor for more than a decade I can tell you that a) it has nothing to do with intelligence, and b) if the poor lack anything more than money, it's skills. That includes cooking and (especially) budgeting skills. Poor people are poor primarily because they do the kinds of things that lead to poverty. They know no other way.

But that's why I specifically said that you should offer cooking or budgeting help, "if they need it." Some don't need it, but most do.

All are willing to accept it from a friend. Just like you are willing to let a friend teach you knitting or archery, poor people are happy to learn from someone they believe has their best interests at heart. So the most important thing you can be to a poorer person is a friend.

I don't offer that list so that some middle class prole can check it off like a bingo card or punch his good deed card for the week of Nov 3-10, 2013. I offer it because there's something real people need more than food. That's community. That's relationships. That's people caring about one another, helping one another, sacrificing for one another.

I'm not afraid to say that I don't care that the gov't is cutting food stamps. I don't. The idea that gov't is 'cruel' because it now covers only 94.6% of supplemental food rather than 100% is laughable. That sort of drama might deserve an Emmy, but it does not deserve a hearing.

But I care very much that we Americans have decided that so long as we politically support the poor getting food stamps, we can otherwise ignore them. So long as we support the right 'causes,' we can sleep well in the assurance that we have done our part. We haven't. Not remotely.

Food stamps destroy the fabric of our civil society, because they provide the uncomfortable with food while providing the comfortable with the illusion that their responsibility toward others has been fulfilled. It hasn't been. The American poor, even though they are the richest poor the world has ever seen, live in a hopeless state, because they see no way of bettering their position short of the lottery.

And it will always be hopeless unless those who are not poor offer them more than a plastic card that gives them microwavable meals. We must offer them ourselves. If we are not willing to offer that, then we should stop pretending that we give a d@mn about them.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 2 months ago

Sorry, Bill, I hear you, I do. But my thing is that I have cooked from scratch all of my life and baked my own bread. My daughter and granddaughter always helped me in the kitchen and now they both cook. We all believe that, for instance, if you buy a bag of potatoes instead of instant there are so many possible dishes you can make from that.

Then to us cooking and baking is creative and fun, to others it is drudgery.

We are talking about changing the mind set of a lot of people. Just one more thing. I recently realized that II will buy certain food items because I feel that as an older, poor, person, food shopping is just about the only thing in my life I can control.

Weird but true factoid. If I return to my cooking roots I will be in control. I will not be using only food stamps but I will expect to have to use some cash to buy food during the month. I really think that some people made to feel like that are non-human have a "in your face" attitude that comes from a last ditch stand.

I realize just how wrong I was when I assumed that anyone can whip up an authentic 19th century English Christmas dinner. We did some research for that one and it took almost a month. We had to learn Brit speak to decipher the recipes. But, it was fun.

My apologies for making assumptions about people I don't even know.

4 years, 2 months ago

"I feel that as an older, poor, person, food shopping is just about the only thing in my life I can control."

This is exactly correct. If you look at the lives of the poor (generally speaking), one of the major problems you will discover is their feeling that they have no control. They have no control over their income. No control over their budget. No control over their kids' education. They move through life with no control over anything that is important to them.

This lack of agency (for lack of a better word) leads to the hopelessness that is endemic among the poor: they do not believe there is anything they can do to improve their lot. They FEEL helpless because none of their decisions seem to matter. All of those decisions have been made for them.

This is one reason why food stamps, by themselves, are so horrible for the poor. Back during WWI, the government promoted Victory Gardens. These were individual and communal gardens that fed people so that farm crops could go to the war effort. That the war was useless is not the issue. But what is the issue is that it gave the poor control over something. They could work at something and excel. They could reap the literal fruits of their work. It gave meaning and purpose. It gave agency to the poor, control over a very important aspect of their lives.

What is the difference between a plastic card that brings microwaveable pot pies and a garden that brings beans and tomatoes? It's not ease of cooking. It's control over one's life. Food stamps may be good for Archer Daniels Midland and its owners - they keep the wheels of commerce spinning. But 21st century Victory Gardens would be much better for the poor.

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