19 September 2013

Food For Thought

During my two weeks here on Topsail Island, I’ve gotten to spend a fair amount of time talking to locals, including the folks who work in the restaurants that tend to close down as tourist season eases to an end for the year. One waitress shared her struggle with me and my sister yesterday. For her, it means a period of uncertainty as she tries to figure out how to make ends meet between now and when the season starts again in the Spring.  She works hard and she wants to continue working, but there are few opportunities during the off season. Does she pick up and move somewhere else or try to tough it out so she can keep the place she lives in and not have to find a new one when she returns?

A lucky few have managed to snag work at the handful of restaurants here that stay open year round and they’re grateful for it. My waitress on Tuesday had worked as an EMT and fire fighter and made more money as a waitress at a nice, but not fancy, restaurant than she did when she was saving lives on a daily basis. What kind of sense does that make? 

I thought of both of them today as I read that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years. I know that it won’t pass in the Senate and that it is largely posturing, just like the 42 times they’ve voted to overturn Obamacare, but it infuriates me. 

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had from writing this blog this year is that we are all in this together. I always knew that, but this year I went from knowing it to believing it to feeling it in my bones. We belong to each other and we have to take care of each other. Also, to think that you or your neighbors or your family members or other people you deeply love will never be one of the people who may need the very services that you work so vehemently to cut is the height of hubris to me.  People opposed to the food stamp program like to bark about the fraud, but study after study shows there is very little. Plus, I wonder how many of them can say how much the average monthly benefit for food stamps is per person? It’s $133.19. No one is getting rich off that even if they’d hoarding the entire amount and are cheating the government. 

The $40 billion reduction would cut 14 million people from getting food stamps, according to the Congressional Budget Office. 

Here’s my favorite part: the bill also includes cutting benefits for “able-bodied adults” (let’s see how that’s defined) between 18-50 who aren’t caring for children to 3 months unless they find at least a part-time job or are in a job-training program. This provision comes courtesy of the same House that has not managed to pass a jobs bill in the last six years and has cut funding for such work programs.

News like this makes my heart hurt because in the world that I see around me, I don’t see people “sitting on the couch...and expecting the federal taxpayer to feed you,” as Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said today. And I certainly don’t see people  turning down abundant jobs left and right so they can get that $133 per month. I see people struggling to make ends meet and trying to figure out how they can transition from jobs they loved but are now gone to a job that will pay them enough to keep their head above water. They aren't being picky. The jobs aren't there. 

Today’s $10 goes to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which includes Pender County, where I am now. The Food Bank covers 34 counties on N.C., helping the more then 560,000 people in central and eastern N.C. who struggle to provide food for their families every day.

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