Barbie Izquierdo, a low-income mother of two small children, is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a Philadelphia group of moms dedicated to ending hunger and poverty for their children and for families nationwide. About a month ago while she was waiting in line at a supermarket, she overheard two families trying to make purchases with their food stamps debit card. A computer glitch had temporarily shut down the system; these families and their children of all ages had to leave the store empty-handed. Barbie had to be a witness again. This problem was fixed in a day, but empty refrigerators when inadequate food stamps run out is a monthly fact of life for millions of poor families. Barbie has been there herself, and she knows it got worse starting November 1, during this month of Thanksgiving, when food stamp cuts of $36 a month for a family of four took effect.
Barbie described this experience during a forum held by Bread for the World this week to release a new report, Ending Hunger in America. The report illuminates that too many people in this country cannot get enough work, and when they do work their pay is too low. The vast majority of people receiving food stamps are children, elderly or the disabled. Two-thirds of the working-aged, non-disabled parents worked while receiving SNAP, and almost ninety percent worked in the year before or after using this aid. But they don't earn enough to be able to afford food.
If people cannot get proper nutrition, their health is compromised. For children, inadequate food can mean developmental delays and falling behind at school. For children and adults, it can mean obesity and diabetes, as families cope with hunger by eating filling foods with empty calories. For seniors, inability to afford healthy foods can make illnesses worse.
Many of us are stocking up on the fixings for a wonderful Thanksgiving. The average cost to serve ten people is just under $50 this year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. After the recent cut, people receiving food stamps (now called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) get an average of less than $1.40 per meal. That certainly doesn't buy a Thanksgiving dinner, but it also doesn't provide enough to put food on the table all month long.
Some in Congress spend a lot of time blaming the unemployed for their joblessness. In the House of Representatives, a majority voted to cut SNAP massively, with some of the heaviest cuts falling on jobless individuals without children who can't find work. These representatives refuse to see these jobless individuals' recent work histories. They have also voted to cut the education and training that prepares people for work, and have cut or refused to fund a host of job creation measures, to rebuild roads and public buildings, to weatherize homes and invest in green jobs. Many do not appear to favor an increase in the minimum wage. These and other budget cuts imposed by Congress have slowed economic growth, so there are still three jobseekers for every vacant job.
While I listened to Barbie and the other presenters talk about the need for jobs with decent wages and the enduring harm from not having enough food, I thought about JPMorgan Chase. The financial giant settled a lawsuit with the U.S. government for $13 billion -- the penalty for mortgage practices that helped push the nation into the Great Recession, costing us millions of jobs. Although the I.R.S. has the final say, officials at J.P. Morgan say that $7 billion of the settlement is expected to be tax-deductible.
That means nearly $2.5 billion of the settlement may be returned to the company, courtesy of the taxpayer. If approved, this one offending financial giant will get enough money to reverse half of the food stamp cut this year. Oh, wait -- it's worse: JPMorgan Chase separately settled with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for $5.1 billion for its bad mortgages, and all of that is tax deductible, handing them back about $1.5 billion. Senators Reed (D-RI) and Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Government Settlement Transparency and Reform Act (S. 1654) to limit the tax deductibility of such penalties. Will it move? Will the majority in the House who find it easy to deny food stamps to the jobless vote to deny billions to wrong-doing corporations whose actions contributed so much to the job loss? Don't bet your drumstick on it.
When Barbie Izquierdo's children started school this year, they were asked to sign an anti-bullying pledge. Barbie suggested at the Bread for the World forum that members of Congress should sign an anti-bullying pledge. Not a bad idea. Taking food away from the little guys is something bullies do in school cafeterias all the time. Some in Congress are trying to do it on a much bigger scale. This Thanksgiving, let's resolve to stop them.