Anti-poverty activist Mariana Chilton slammed Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and other lawmakers in an interview with Bill Moyers for perpetuating the stigma against Americans who need federal benefits programs or local food banks to get enough food on their tables.
“Let me show you what this congressperson is doing,” Chilton told Moyers on Moyers & Company. “Basically they’re pinning the problems that we have in this country on people who are poor. If you think about people who are poor really– you have 80 percent of people who are food insecure are actually working. That means their wages are so low that they’re eligible for food stamps.”
Chilton, founder of the advocacy group Witnesses to Hunger, unloaded on King after Moyers played footage of King’s May 2013 opposition to the expansion of the Special Nutritional Assistance Program, more commonly known as “food stamps.” King said at the time reflected President Barack Obama’s goal to “simply expand the dependency class.”
“You want to talk about dependency in this country?” Chilton asked Moyers. “Let’s talk about corporations and businesses that pay such low wages that they depend on the United States government to add money to those wages through the Income Assistance Programs, like SNAP. So because if you take a company like Walmart, pays their workers so low that their workers are actually eligible for food stamps.”
Chilton also said she has seen Senate staff members tear up while hearing from people fighting poverty, only to watch the lawmakers they work for turn around and vote to cut assistance programs.
“I’m wondering, who is it that’s influencing Congress? Who’s got their thumb on what Congress can do?” Chilton asked aloud. “And I think that there’s just not enough people who are poor who have an opportunity to speak out. I don’t think they get enough press, they don’t have, they’re sort of shut out, there’s no opportunity for people who are low income to really engage in our democracy.”
Chilton’s group is featured in a new documentary, A Place At The Table. The film’s co-director, Kristi Jacobson, told Moyers that despite efforts to expand relief programs, 50 million Americans continue to go hungry.
“What we’ve found both during the making of the film and in fact since showing the film, you know, [are] food bank directors repeatedly sharing with us, you know, ‘We can’t do this alone. We need government to play its role,’” Jacobson said. “Because it should be an emergency food system. It should be complementing government programs that really address the needs of the most vulnerable.”
Watch Moyers’ interview with Chilton and Jacobson, posted Friday by Moyers & Company, below.