I waited on our front porch in Colorado everyday, willing the mailman to bring me my child support check. The trees where the starlings roosted hovered over the porch roof. I was a single mother with three young children, and my funds were rapidly being spent for food. Day after day, our food supply lessened, and the child support check didn’t come. I had tried everything to get support and nothing seemed to work. Finally, I was down to $1.75 and a few cans of food. The mailman walked past me. Hundreds of starlings took to the sky as he said, “Nothing for you today.” I knew I had to go back down to the food stamp office.
I had been on food stamps for several months earlier, then I found work that allowed me to go off them. Now I was sick and couldn’t work, and child support was essential. But it didn’t come. I was so ashamed. Somehow I had to communicate to the welfare office that not only did I not have money but also that I had let us get so bad.
Two of my kids stayed with friends and one daughter went with me. In the waiting room, I took a number and sat with other women and children. We avoided each other’s eyes. The same bouquet of faded beige flowers sat on the counter. My little girl read instructions from the pop machine. In the time between my two experiences with food stamps, she had learned to read. Finally, my name was called.
An hour later, my daughter and I skipped down the sidewalk on our way home. I was so happy, and she was happy with me. Food stamp officials were kind, had given me an emergency allotment of $64, and more would be coming. We were hungry and couldn’t wait to go to the grocery store.
Food stamps, what is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been an emergency source for similar families for the last five and a half decades, beginning under President Kennedy. According to Lisa Sharon Harper (Sojomail, e/22/12), “one of the reasons SNAP works so well right now is that its funding has the flexibility to fluctuate up and down when there is a change in need.” That made it extraordinarily helpful during the Great Recession. Not only has it fed millions of hungry families, but I know during my time of troubles, it kept me sane. I knew that if I proved how desperate we were, there would be at least minimal food for my children.
That source of help is in serious danger now. Senator Paul Ryan has proposed a radical, reverse-Robin Hood plan that would cut funds from SNAP and give even larger tax breaks to the rich. It would block grant SNAP and send a fixed amount of money for it to the states. I live in Arizona now and certainly don’t trust it to fairly administer an inflexible amount of reduced funds.
Brad Plumer, in a blog from the Washington Post, says that over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security,” which includes programs for the poor that range from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. That means millions of people will go hungry.
Lee Sharon Harper declares, “Ryan, as a Catholic, has flagrantly disregarded the moral counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which released a statement on March 6 affirming the following:
Congress should base decisions on the federal budget on whether they protect or threaten human life and dignity, whether they put the needs of the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed first, and whether they reflect the shared responsibility of government and other institutions to promote the common good of all, especially workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult times.”
We must fight against Ryan and Romney and other forces that would slash funding for the poor and those struggling to make it through this period of difficulty. We can write letters, we can raise our voices in public, and we can work on campaigns that oppose the Ryan budget. And most of all we can vote and register others to vote. Why do we in the United States attempt to punish our poor? Is the fact of their existence so terrifying to us?