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Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

October 8, 2013

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
– Matthew 7:5

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Cory Booker with groceries for his meals for a week.

Greg Stanton, the mayor of Phoenix, Arizona, lived on a weekly food budget of $29 to experience what it is like for a person living on the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  (food stamps).  On day four, he said, “I’m tired, and it’s hard to focus.”  Without a nutritional breakfast, I feel that way by mid-morning.  I think I would feel awful at the end of a week.

There are a number of other high-profile people who have tried to find what it feels like to live with less than five dollars per day.  Last year, Cory Booker, Newark’s mayor, went on the national media outlets to highlight the challenges one faces living on food stamps.  Panera Bread’s CEO, Ron Shaich, a wealthy man who was paid $3 million by his company last year, chronicled his week living on a SNAP allotment on his blog last month.  As he set out for the week, he wrote, “Thirty one dollars and fifty cents, the weekly budget, didn’t feel so insignificant until I actually started filling – and editing – what was ultimately a barren shopping cart.”  I appreciate that he is trying to find ways that his company can help address hunger in our country.  He also tries to dispel the concept that all recipients are lazy takers, ready to live off the work of others.  Shaich and the others were clear about how their single week has no comparison whatsoever to the millions of Americans who count on the program.  Their short experiment was limited.  They could go on to their normal lifestyles and diets when they wanted.  Plus, they still had money for shelter, transportation, food for their families, health care and other financial commitments.

This past summer, two dozen in the U.S. House of Representatives took the pledge to shop for food on the weekly SNAP allotment.  As with Stanton, Booker, Shaich and others who do this by choice, they were mocked by some for simply engaging in a publicity stunt.  What’s the point in temporarily changing your lifestyle and if you want to do this, why do you need to tell everybody about it?  Well, much of what they do in Washington D.C. is all for the voters’ and the media’s consumption, isn’t it?  I applaud the efforts to bring attention to the prevalence of hunger and poverty in our country.

There has been a steady assault on the SNAP program in Washington D.C.  Before the House of Representatives broke for their August recess, the farm bill, which for the past forty years has included funding for subsidies for both farmers and food stamps, was split into two separate proposed bills.  When that scheme couldn’t make it through a floor vote, the two parts were re-combined at the end of September.  However, funding for the farmers is set for five years and nutrition portion remains authorized for only three.  Plus, the bill would force SNAP funding cuts of forty billion dollars over the next ten years.

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Marlin Stutzman has received $196,000 in farm subsidies. He is trying hard to get his way with the government shutdown. Only he’s not exactly sure what that means. “We’re not going to be disrespected…We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

There are fourteen members of Congress who voted for these measures who benefit directly from the farm subsidies.  Yes, these people have voted to spend taxpayers’ money for programs that have benefitted them, but also voted to gut spending for hungry people.  These U.S. Representatives have received millions of dollars in farm subsidies and each of them has voted to continue these spending bills, but they also want to cut SNAP funding.

Perhaps the most egregious example is Stephen Fincher, who has received almost $3.5 million.  He speaks of Washington stealing from taxpayers for the benefit of others, seemingly without any sense of irony.  He quotes the Bible as part of his inspiration for making these decisions.  Vicky Hartzler, like Fincher, also brings her faith to bear.  She was recently awarded the True Blue Award from Family Research Council Action and Focus on the Family Action, based on her “commitment to the defense of family, faith, and freedom.”  She has received over $500 thousand in farm subsidies.  Doug LaMalfa, who represents my parents’ Northern California Congressional District, labels himself a Christian.  He has received more than $1.5 million for his family’s rice farming operations – or perhaps four or five million dollars.  (I guess it depends on the time horizon considered.)

The hypocrisy of these people is astonishing.  I’m not sure how they ignore the consequences of their behavior.  Perhaps they could tryout the SNAP budget for a few weeks to get another point of view.

12 Comments
  1. Hi Bruce, we logged on to WP tonight mainly to give you a hard time for your shaming my pub from lunching on her comfort food of tuna on pumpernickel. We read your opinion of seafood earlier and decided to make something else. Now we read this and once again realize how fortunate we are to eat what we please when we please when so many are forced to do without. The reductions in SNAP and other nutritional supplemental problems are appalling. What is even more disturbing is how removed so many of us are from wondering where our next meal is coming from. Having just learned how to reblog, you will see this on SK, thank you for bringing this serious issue to our attention and reminding us that thousands among us, right here in RIver City, are going hungry. xo, LMA

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  2. Reblogged this on Suffragette Kitty and commented:
    Hi SK fans, Please enjoy this beautifully written post by the ever socially conscience Bruce Theisen from Ram On, http://www.brucekthiesen.wordpress.com. We truly enjoy his posts and know you will, too, xo LMA

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  3. I remember plenty of tuna on sour-dough bread, tuna on saltines, tuna and fresh tomatoes, tuna with rye bread.. I see how tuna on pumpernickel can be your go-to. And how nicely it would complement those remaining kibbles in the “Votes for Women” bowl over there at SK!

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  4. Hi Barbara – thank you.

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  5. An interesting thought Bruce… require politicians to live with the consequences of their actions for a month before they vote on an issue like SNAP. Or require them to cut an equivalent amount of government support from the subsidies that they and there friends enjoy. As always, a humanistic, well though out post. –Curt

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    • Curt – that’s right, have them give it a try. They will benefit by getting closer to ground zero on some of these matters their constituents face. It’s cruel to try to make big cuts to the programs that are so badly needed by so many people. Of course, the better approach is to work on policies that will create stronger economy for the country and in particular, the unemployed and the working poor.

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  6. Mark Thiesen permalink

    I remember buying a Jumbo can of tuna, in order to save a few pennies per ounce, with you in the summer of 1980?? Was pretty bad at the tail end of that can.
    I do think that other branches of communities and government help with some help with food. I wish that people who really need the help could get it and a lot of those who are not responsible and could provide for themselves would.
    By the way, early Christians were put to task to feed and care for the the widows and orphans. I am not sure I would take my farm subsidy and cut the food for those in need.
    Are the farmer subsidies to keep the price of food down for everyone? Or does it just keep the farmer in business?
    Mick

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    • Hi Mark – good to see you over here!

      The farm subsidies were originally put in place to stabilize crop prices and give the farmers a little stability. The food stamps have been attached to the farm bill in order to get support from congress representing urban areas for farm subsidies and support for food stamps from those in urban areas. It may make sense to split them at some point, but I don’t think now is a good time, given current economic conditions and the many people relying on food stamps. Farm subsidies can create unintended consequences to food prices, types of crops grown, and global food supply. It seems like time to re-think the whole approach.

      I can’t say that I remember the bargain-priced tuna purchase. I guess we should have stuck with “chicken of the sea”.

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  7. Great post! We need to keep pressing the fact that people need and deserve help and that no one should have to go hungry. It’s cruel for Congress to vote to cut food aid.

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Obstructing, Denying and Dithering in the U.S. Congress | Ram On
  2. Two From the Sunflower State | Ram On

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