AskWHYBlog: Carol Harvey In San Francisco

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Sunday, June 05, 2005





Dieters know hunger’s hollow ache can stop you cold.

During a 15-day spiritually motivated water and coffee fast, I discovered a hunger-busting phenomenon described in a Franz Kafka story. Middle Age “Hunger Artists” would lie in cages in their town squares starving for money. Passersby tossed them coins.

Initial pangs vanished completely. This enabled Kafka’s “artist” to fast 40 days.

Sure enough. Fasting was easy. I got tired, but I was never hungry.

On day 15, my auburn-red hair turned gray. I was scared back to normal eating. B Vitamins restored my hair color.

My brush with starvation was a privileged luxury. I was not a member of an impoverished family without means to feed its children an adequate nutritious diet.

The stunting affects of hunger on bodies, brains, and futures of children are well understood. If malnutrition persists, hunger will disappear, but so will one’s health, and finally one’s life.


On February 7, 2005, Bread For the World Institute, a Christian citizens’ nutrition justice lobby, released an analysis of the Bush Fiscal Year 2006 Domestic Nutrition Initiatives.

It noted that, even as Bush’s Federal Budget proposes food stamp cuts, hunger and poverty is on the rise. It stated that recently released Bush administration data illustrates “for the fourth straight year there are more people in the U.S. struggling to feed their families.

“However, a careful analysis of the president’s fiscal year 2006 budget request shows that he proposes cuts to the Food Stamp Program by $500 million over the next five years.”

It points out that, “These proposed cuts come at a time when 36. 3 million people, including 13.3 million children, live in homes that struggle to put food on the table.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture data reveals that hunger and “food insecurity” jumped from 31.0 million people in 1999 to 34.9 people in 2002, an increase of 1.4 million. In 2003 it leapt to 36.3 million.

Kim McCoy Wade, the co-director of the 40-member California Association of Food Banks expressed urgency about Bush Administration and Congressional cuts to the Federal Food Stamp program.

The California Association represents small to large food banks statewide, including LA County, one of the Country’s biggest food banks.

According to Wade, Bush is calling for a nationwide one billion dollar cut in the food stamp program.

Additionally, Congress has directed the Agriculture Committee to slice 3 billion dollars from the Department of Agriculture’s budget. The President and Congress hash it out and come up with a total. “Where that (money) comes from,” said Wade, “is the fight that is currently being fought, and food stamps are vulnerable.”

Agricultural subsidies and food banks in the same committee, which previously represented a united front, now must compete. Though they share the goal of feeding poor and hungry people, agriculture interests are pitted against nutrition interests.

Wade observed, “We don’t want to do (that) because we partner with farmers all the time.

“And, people in farm country are hungry, too. So, we try to do an urban-rural coalition that says the food stamp program benefits all of us.

“Our job this summer is to talk to the Ag Committee saying, ‘Don’t cut this funding.’” She noted they could do anything, going after working families like the President did. “They could say, `We are going to lower everybody’s benefits by a buck. They could cut off all immigrants. I mean, they could do anything.’”

Allison Pratt, education and advocacy coordinator of a member bank, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, seconded Wade’s alarm.


Pratt and Wade anticipate June 7, 2005, when, according to the National Hunger Awareness Day website, several thousand people from the “grass roots” will visit Washington D.C. to “to raise awareness about the solvable problem of hunger in America.”

A prayer service will be held Monday night at the National Cathedral.

On Tuesday, Wade will be one of a three-member delegation from the California Association of Food Banks that will lobby the Congressional Agriculture Committee about the cuts.

Bread For The World and Second Harvest, a certifying organization that reviews Food Banks for quality, safety, and accountability, are co-organizers of this important event.

The delegation will visit the offices of each California member of the AG Committee to communicate their concerns. Busy Senators like Feinstein and Boxer represent several million people. Lobbyists will likely talk with staff, which does research, informs, and advises the member.

Wade said, “Our message to the Ag Committee is how important this food stamp program is in bringing healthy food to hard working families.”


“Our two goals are to protect the food stamp program funding and its structure. Those are under attack this year.”

The structure dictates which families can be allowed into the food stamp program and which will be denied.

The key funding question is, “Which money will be available?”

The Temporary Aid to Needy Families Reauthorization Bill is a second threat “traveling separate from the budget debate,” stated Wade. TANF reauthorization would change food stamps from an entitlement program in which the federal government supplies the money despite the cost, to a block grant program in which states are provided a flat rate amount.

Unanswered questions arise:

What if there is more need than block granted funding?

Will the block grant amount be based on last year’s need?

What if the need changes?


Providing less money is a simple maneuver. Bush’s trickiest gambit is restructuring and shrinkage of the definition of the Poverty Group. Defining it more narrowly makes less money necessary.

Bread For The World’s site states, “The administration plans to enforce these budget cuts by reducing the number of people eligible to receive benefits, especially for low-income working families.” If the President gets his way with the Federal cuts, his proposal would eliminate the Categorical Eligibility option.

“Currently, people who are eligible for some welfare services are automatically eligible to receive food stamps. The president’s proposal will dramatically reduce the number of people who automatically qualify for food stamps.”

Said Pratt, “When the President proposed his budget cuts in February, the one cut he proposed to the food stamp program was this: Right now States have the option of automatically enrolling people who are receiving Medicaid into the food stamp program.”

“The connection to health care is just another doorway into the food stamp program for working families,” Wade confirmed. The President’s proposal eliminates that option.

Says Bread For The World, “This proposal strips individual states of flexibility provided in the bipartisan 1996 welfare law that allows states to streamline eligibility for the Food Stamp Program. The most heavily impacted families would be low-income workers because they may have modest savings or own a reliable car.”

Right now California lacks “Categorical Eligibility” for working families with slightly higher earnings, but whose child-care and medical expenses render their net incomes “super low.” Los Angeles Assemblywoman Judy Chu authored Bill 696, proposing California creates “Categorical Eligibility,” automatically enrolling them in the food stamp program.

If the President eliminates Categorical Eligibility, California cannot do that.

Said Bread for the World President, David Beckman, “To propose removing hundreds of thousands of hard-working, low-income people from the Food Stamp Program is anything but compassionate.

“Overall the president’s budget misses the mark. It does not balance our nation’s need for security with our moral commitment to help hardworking people who are struggling to feed their families to build a better life.”