Every Farm Bill reauthorization brings out some of the nation's most powerful lobbyists to ensure that the voices of the companies and interests they represent are not only heard but dominate the debate. Legislative battles are rarely fair fights. This time is no different. But over the past few weeks Share Our Strength has intentionally sought out some of the voices least often heard in the corridors of Congress: those of the families who can't afford lobbyists, don't make campaign contributions, but who can bear witness first hand to the life-changing benefits of a food and nutrition assistance program like SNAP.
The intimate glimpses into their lives that they've been willing to share are as powerful as any statistics about the record number of Americans living below the poverty line who depend on SNAP, or the amount of fraud that serious reform has already succeeded in squeezing out of the program. What we see instead is the struggle waged, often by moms, young and alone, but also by military families, to care for those who are dependent on them.
I shared many of these letters in a post earlier this month. The stories have continued to pour in, so here are a few more excerpts from the letters we've received that convey both the temporary nature of the assistance and the lifelong gratitude it engenders.
"There was a time when I nearly lost everything that I had worked an entire life time to achieve, 401K, job, home, etc. I had applied for food stamps and this was a life line until I could get back on my feet." Anonymous, Georgia
"Like so many other people, I was the eldest of two siblings being raised by a single mother. The struggle for our family to stay fed was aided by school lunches and by my grandmother who often supplied our evening meal and most meals on weekends. It wasn't until I was much older that I came to realize that she fed us so frequently because there was often little to eat at home by the end of the month." L. Howard, California
"Food Stamps helped me feed my kids when I was a veteran newly returned to college. With both my wife and me full time students, with four mouths to feed, with a jobless recovery underway (the Nixon Ford recession), we had few options for gathering money for food. We grew a garden for vegetables, shopped at a slaughterhouse for meat, and used the cheapest generics available to fill in the rest. We couldn't have made it without food stamps." Robert, North Carolina
Other letters make it inescapable to contemplate accidents of birth, over which none of us of course have any control:
"I can remember as a kid my parents would often struggle to make ends meet. When I was 13 my parents separated and of course that made it even harder for my mother. I can remember her having to apply for food stamps (SNAP)." Delina in Missouri
"I grew up in the projects and my parents were very poor. They were both disabled and the little money they received was enough to pay the bills. Allowing us to be on Food Stamps (SNAP) gave us the nutrition we needed for everyday living. I thank the Good Lord for that." Stacey, Massachusetts
As you can see, these individuals may be vulnerable but they are not voiceless. Our job in the months ahead is to ensure that their voices are heard.