The United States celebrates its “land of plenty” Thanksgiving Day this week, but for the poor and most vulnerable, there is less food on the table after Congress cut aid.
As Americans stock up on turkeys for Thursday’s traditional Thanksgiving feast, food pantries and charities are bracing for higher demand after lawmakers slashed $5 billion from the nation’s largest hunger safety net.
And lawmakers aimed at trimming the US budget deficit are contemplating more cuts to food stamps for the poor — formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — an initiative that helps feed almost 48 million, or one in seven Americans.
Under the SNAP cuts, a four-person household, for example, loses $36 a month, or about 21 meals, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“Talk about ‘Les Miserables’ in America,” Leonard Edwards, an unemployed food stamps recipient, told AFP.
Edwards — a volunteer at Bread for the City, a nonprofit pantry in Washington — said he receives $20 less a month in benefits. Even before the cuts, he struggled to afford food.
“I can stretch it to about those last three days” of the month, said Edwards, a military veteran who also takes home food from the pantry.
Determined to reduce the government’s huge debt and chronic deficits, Democrats and Republicans in Congress are now haggling over more cuts to food stamp benefits, ranging from $5 billion to $40 billion over 10 years.
Meanwhile, in the US capital, one in three children struggles with hunger — the second-worst rate after New Mexico, according to Feeding America.
The nationwide network of 200 food banks says the number of low-income people it feeds annually grew 46 percent from 2006 to now, from 25 million people to 37 million.
In Washington, the hub of one of the nation’s wealthiest regions, legions of the homeless line up daily in front of charity-run food trucks.
Soup kitchens and food pantries are racing to meet demand from the growing numbers of those suffering from “food insecurity” — the term used by the US Department of Agriculture that runs the SNAP program.
Bread for the City has seen an increase of about 10 to 15 percent in the number of individuals and families served by its two food pantries in Washington since the 2008 economic crisis, said its chief executive, George Jones.
“For the people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, the recession’s not over,” he said.
Food stamp cuts affect people already struggling to pay rent, medical bills and transportation costs, he noted.
“It exacerbates the entire economic constraints that these folks live with every day.”
The volumes of food distributed by the huge Capital Area Food Bank highlight the sheer scope of the need in the Washington area.
In 2012, the CAFB distributed 45 million pounds (20 million kilos) of food, or 37.5 million meals, helping nearly 500,000 people.
It moved last year into a new 123,000-square-foot (11,400-square-meter) warehouse after being forced to turn away millions of pounds of donated food because its former warehouse, half as big, lacked the capacity.
The CAFB director of public policy, Brian Banks, said that they normally get in more supplies for the holidays.
But with the SNAP cuts they have increased supplies even more, because “we wanted to prepare for the worst.”
“With the cuts happening, we have seen an increase in people that some wouldn’t expect to use the program.
“Now they have to turn to this program because they just don’t know where to get food from,” Banks said.
It is not strictly a matter of joblessness, Banks underscored.
The majority of people looking for help, both in the capital and nationwide, are working full-time, but just do not make enough money to live on, he said.
Bread for the City’s Jones said that makes it hard for anyone to argue that people seeking food aid “don’t deserve a greater measure of justice, don’t deserve the support that the food stamp program really represents.”
“We always have more people here than we can serve,” he said.