Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Congress must act on more Americans going hungry

Credit: Song
Credit: Song

For most of us Thanksgiving means a table piled with mountains of steaming mashed potatoes, roasted turkey carved into hearty slices, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie heaped with whipped cream. But not all families are so lucky and last week millions of Americans gathered around empty tables.

No American should ever have to sit at a barren table.   The U.S. government should expand food stamps and other programs so that no one in the United States struggles to feed their family three meals per day.

According to The New York Times, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last month that 49 million Americans went without adequate food at some point last year. This is an increase of 13 million people over the previous year, the highest number since the USDA began keeping track in 1985.

According to Northwest Harvest, 15 percent of children in Washington live in poverty, and nearly 300,000 live in households that find it difficult to put together three healthy meals each day.

Rural Washingtonians: especially those in the south-central part of the state, near Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities: are more likely to face food insecurity.

Of the 49 million Americans who experienced food insecurity, one-third faced “very low food security,” where family members had to miss meals or reduce portions to save money. The remaining two-thirds: over 30 million people: had to eat cheaper foods, rely on government aid, or visit soup kitchens to feed themselves and their families.

Single mothers were the most likely to battle food insecurity. In over one and a half-million households, children went without enough to eat: more than double the previous year.

Why did so many more Americans go hungry at some point in 2008? The answer, unsurprisingly, is the downward spiral into a deep economic recession.

The unemployment rate, which was at 4.9 percent at the end of 2007, rose to 7.2 percent in December 2008. This year, the unemployment rate spiked to 10.2 percent.

More Americans without jobs means more people who can’t afford to adequately feed their families: so even more families could go hungry this year.

The increase in hunger is directly linked to welfare reform.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Welfare and Work Opportunity Act, a key component of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America. The act imposed a lifetime limit of five years’ benefits for welfare recipients, strictly limited aid to immigrants, whether legal or illegal, and reduced job training opportunities.

Proponents of welfare reform, including Newt Gingrich and former president Bill Clinton, claimed that it would reduce poverty rates and unemployment. Neither unemployment nor poverty rates have improved, while millions of Americans have stopped receiving aid, forced into menial jobs that won’t feed their families.

Today, as the country struggles to climb out of the deepest recession, we must reevaluate all aspects of our economy.

The United States is the richest country in the world, and no American should ever go hungry. With over 30 million Americans forced to miss meals or eat less to save money, it’s clear that welfare reform has failed.

Congress should seriously consider repealing the Personal Welfare and Work Opportunity Act and other welfare reform laws.

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