Editor’s note: This editorial appeared in the Lewiston Morning Tribune. It is reprinted with permission.
By Marty Trillhaase
Lewiston Morning Tribune
May 10, 2012
Like all technical phrases, this one is meant to be precise.
Analysts use it to describe someone who isn’t certain he’ll get three square meals a day.
Feel free to use the good, old-fashioned word.
It strikes one of every six Americans.
One of every seven live at or below the federal poverty level – defined as $23,050 for a family of four.
Food stamps help one of every seven Americans.
Charities serve one of every eight.
But the impoverished are not the new face of hunger in America. People used to low incomes have developed coping mechanisms. They rely on charities and public assistance. They live in cheap housing.
The newest indicator of hunger in America is the family that was living paycheck to paycheck until the Great Recession took that paycheck away.
That’s what hunger looks like from 35,000 feet up.
Locally, it takes on different features. Working through national surveys, Feeding America – an umbrella organization representing the nation’s food banks – produced a portrait of hunger at the county level.
Here’s the hunger in our backyards:
Asotin County – 3,170, or 14.8 percent, can’t be certain of their next meal.
Garfield County – 320 or 14.5 percent.
Whitman County -7,270 or 16.6 percent.
Clearwater County – 1,770 or 20.2 percent.
Idaho County – 3,110 or 19.5 percent.
Latah County – 6,440 or 17.6 percent.
Lewis County – 570 or 15.1 percent.
Nez Perce County – 5,680 or 14.6 percent.
That should tell you a couple of things.
Any member of Congress who is toying with plans to cut back food stamps is out of touch. If he has any doubts, let him explore north central Idaho and eastern Washington.
Cuts would threaten not only able-bodied adults, but children, who make up 48 percent of the recipients, disabled, who account for 9 percent, and senior citizens, who are 3 percent of the food stamp caseloads.
There’s nothing robust about this program. The average benefit works out to $290 a month per household – or $1.50 a meal. Most food stamp families are able to stretch out their assistance for two or three weeks out of the month.
Four years after the Great Recession struck, the need remains. Look at Idaho’s experience. In 2007, about 87,000 people utilized the program. The rolls shot up to a high of 238,777 as of January before leveling off at 237,478 in March. That’s roughly 15 percent of Idaho’s population, which puts the Gem State in the mainstream as far as reliance on food stamps.
Once people go back to work, they go off food stamps. But it hasn’t happened yet. Cut the program now and the private network of food banks and emergency shelters will be overwhelmed.
That network now serves 37 million people a year.
Speaking of those charities, Saturday marks the single largest food drive of the year. Across the country, the National Association of Letter Carriers will collect an anticipated 75 million pounds of food.
Donations will be distributed in the state in which they were collected. For instance, food picked up in Lewiston will be directed to the Lewiston food bank; food gathered in Clarkston will go toward the Clarkston food bank.
If you emerged from the Great Recession with a filled pantry and refrigerator, don’t neglect those who weren’t as fortunate. – M.T.