Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Jack Burgess: Food Stamps, Yes!

“It always amazes me how rich men, given so much by their families and their circumstances, believe assistance will hurt other people.”

a burgess bulletin – september, 2013
Food Stamps, Yes!
A column appearing in Ohio newspapers
by Jack Burgess

If you’re reading this column, you probably don’t participate in a government program such as SNAP, to help provide food for your family.  If you can afford to have a newspaper delivered to your home, or if you have a computer and an internet connection so you can read online, you may have more than enough money for food. But millions of good Americans, many in Ohio, don’t have enough to feed their families, and without the assistance of folks like us, they’d starve, or turn to looting for food.

Unfortunately, some of us don’t want to help those who need it.  We believe—or say we believe—folks who are poor brought it on themselves.  Say they’re lazy, or substance addicted, or don’t handle their money wisely.  Mostly, that’s not true.  Some of that thinking is based on the old survival of the fittest mentality, which says if you can’t make it, tough.  It’s your own fault.  Some of it is convoluted Christianity, that those who are successful are God’s chosen, that they’re being rewarded in this life, that the poor are being punished.  Far be it from me to tell anyone what to believe, but Jesus was about “feeding the multitudes,” and caring for children--half of the people on food assistance programs are children.  They can’t work.  They go to bed hungry, wake up hungry, and go to school hungry.  Thankfully, we still have school breakfast and lunch programs, or some of these kids would rarely get a good meal.

This is the United States of America we’re talking about—the richest nation in the history of the world.  We can afford to feed the children, and the disabled and the aged who make up most of the rest of the recipients of government assistance.  And let’s not forget that many of those receiving assistance are working, but their jobs don’t pay enough to feed a family.

Some in the Congress, and in Ohio’s government, want to end food assistance, or cut it way back.  Of course, none of them need assistance.  We pay them well and most of them come from privileged homes.  Many of them got more from government than they will own up to. Republican Congressional leader Ryan, for instance, received Social Security assistance as a young man, which helped him toward his own prosperity.  Some of the political rhetoric on this harks back to President Reagan’s words, “Government is the problem.”  But even Reagan, who benefited from government in many ways, spoke about the need to maintain “a social safety net.”  He didn’t really believe in starving people or eliminating government.  And he raised taxes when needed.

It always amazes me that rich men, given so much by their families and their circumstances, believe assistance will hurt other people. The evidence is mostly to the contrary. Millions who have had help in dealing with poverty have turned their lives around.  And it’s good economics, as every $1spent on food assistance generates $1.80 in economic activity, benefiting everyone.

If we really wanted to get people off food assistance, we’d start by raising the minimum wage to a point where people could earn enough by working to feed a family.  We’d give more honest counseling to young people regarding birth control---as sex is here to stay and today’s young people, like our generations, will mostly not practice abstinence.  We’d also strengthen our schools by cutting back on the massive waste of the standardized testing nonsense and invest in counseling, after school programs, and school to work programs.  We’d ask our corporations to do more, as they do in some other countries, to train workers on the job.  Sending every young person to college will not solve the problem.  Income levels, adjusted for inflation, have mostly been falling since the 1970’s, and more college degrees might mean more underpaid or unemployed college graduates.

Where will the money come from?  It will have to come from where it’s gone.  The super wealthy of this nation have seen their wealth expand by leaps and bounds, and it’s time for them to give back in small measure to the nation that has rewarded them so well.

Jack Burgess is a retired teacher of American & Global Studies. He’s also served as board president of the Godman Guild Settlement House in Columbus.

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