In May of 2007, several Congresspeople took a challenge to try to survive on $21.00 per week. That $21.00 had to feed them for that entire week, meaning they had just $1.00 per meal, or $3.00 per day. Calculating the average Food Stamp allotment, and trying to raise awareness of hunger in the United States, they set off on their mission. Here's what they found.
Attempting to stick to the rules, Rep. Tim Ryan (D) Ohio, couldn't afford to buy a dozen eggs because they were too expensive, and would have broken his $1.00 per meal budget. Rep. Jim McGovern (D) Massachusetts, found himself at his own fundraiser dinner that cost $20.00 per person, but couldn't eat anything there due to his challenge. He looked over the mounds of food piled high across the serving tables, then sat and ate the lentils he had cooked and brought with him in a brown paper bag.
McGovern and Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson were intending to introduce legislation that would have added a mere $4 billion dollars to the food Stamp program's budget, and giving recipients approximately an extra $10.00 per month to feed themselves. Of all the Congresspeople who took the challenge, not all of them even made it to the end of the week. Ryan was caught eating pork chops in a hotel restaurant because, he said, he would have been too weak and might faint trying to give a commencement speech.
There were a few others in Congress who were willing to take the challenge, mostly Democrats, and all of them invariably came to the same conclusion. There was no way that any one person, let alone families, that could survive on current Food Stamp levels, given the rising costs of housing, food, heat, and gas. In California, Rep. (D) Barbara Lee's week long diet consisted of mostly crackers, beans, tortillas, and rice. Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky found she could afford one tomato, one potato, one head of lettuce, and 5 bananas.
Other organizations had representatives join in and take the challenge. Most notable was one called MAZON, whose president, Eric Shockman, noted that even though he managed to not starve for the week, the change in diet from healthy, nutritious food, to peanut butter, bread, and other cheap, fattening food, had caused him to feel ill, weak, lethargic, and depressed. He said he'd never been so happy to see actual 'real food' again.
Taking into account that the experiment was flawed from it's inception, even if it had good intentions, the fact still remains that using the $21.00 per week standard is a little misleading. Most recipients, for one reason or another, do not receive a full allotment, but only partial, due to factors such as having an income of minimum wage, or even cash assistance can lower your Food Stamp amount. In some cases, recipients are jumping through hoops to gain an extra $10.00 per month. Due to recent changes ( recent as in since Bush took office), in the way income and property is calculated to determine how much in Food Stamp assistance one is eligible for, some people end up with no help at all. They might be making one dollar a month over the threshold that the Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of health and human Services declares is the poverty level de jour. Others receiving both cash assistance get the shaft when election year raises to their cash benefits come around, usually $10 to $20 per month, because the extra cash makes their food stamp allotment go down. So they've actually gained nothing. And they've been pulling that scam since the 1990's.
So let's just say they should have used a formula for their experiment of about $14.00 per person per week, or about 68 cents per meal. But it was all for nothing anyway. Having been stalled time and again in the Senate, the legislation to give the poor one extra bowl of porridge a month was shot down. In one of the coldest, callous and evil votes to ever take place on the floor of the Senate, President Bush's recent fake 'stimulus' plan was only agreed to by the 'compassionate conservative' far right Republicans after the Food Stamp increase was taken out of the bill. Food for the poor? Bah! You must be out of your mind! No bid contracts for friends and friends of friends in the billions and billions? Absolutely!
And so another year goes by with the poor struggling to feed their children peanut butter while in the Congressional dining hall, they'll have Filet Mignon on the menu. For free. Paid for by you, the taxpayer. Nothing but the best for the American Aristocracy you see.
See, the poor don't have multi-million dollar lobbying firms who can send the Senators and Congresspeople to exotic locations on 'fact finding' missions that include tours of all of those exotic golf courses and five star hotels. That doesn't fit into their $14.00 per week budget.
But then the ridiculous arguments will come pouring in from those sociopaths amongst us that cry that the poor are getting a free ride and should be forced to get a job. They throw this out there in order for you to think that maybe the poor don't have it so bad after all. But what they don't include in their red herring argument is the fact that fully one half of all Food Stamp recipients do work, and still can not afford to feed themselves or their families due to the slave wage mentality that's been foisted on us all. This "Let them eat cake" way of thinking that has turned America from a kind and compassionate country into a nation of Me Only people. The powers that be still pit us one against another, spouting nonsense about America being one big happy family as they drive wedges between the rich and the middle class, and the middle class and the poor. Until they need suckers to go and get killed in some country no one could give a flying fig about. Only then are we united under the falsehood of that our freedom is under attack.
But as the middle class disappears in an intentional attempt to start a new Gilded Age in America, a few more people's eyes are opened every day. People are starting to see what it's like to try to squeeze that extra serving off a ham bone. And as more people slip below the poverty line, Congressional leaders who claim to be on the side of the people, such as Feinstein and Boxer, both of whom voted with the Republicans, along with many other Democrats, and said nay to more food for America's children, will hopefully be forced to seek other employment themselves. Because no matter how many times we try to sweep the issue of poverty and hunger in America under the rug, it keeps popping up again and again. Wouldn't it be easier to do something about it than to ignore the problem until a full 3/4 of Americans end up living in poverty? Do they think that the People would stand for this for very long?
Ask each candidate that's running for office what they intend to do about more Americans being below the poverty line since the days of Lyndon Johnson, and what they intend to do to ensure that America does not end up being a third world banana republic. And if their answer is to let the markets do their job, run as far and as fast as you can to the other person that's running. Ask them if they're aware of the hunger problem in this country, that American children go to bed at night with no food. Then ask the ones who voted against giving the poor help why they did, and ask their opponent if they'll do something different. We need change in America. Not just false hopes and fancy words that end up leaving things the way they are. We the People need to keep the issue of poverty and hunger in the spotlight until the politicos understand that we're not going away until they do something about it. Write your representative today and tell them to help the starving people in this nation before they ship another bag of rice overseas, period.