Saturday, November 25, 2006

Call it what you will, hunger still a big problem

Timely headline on Thursday's Metro section of The Dallas Morning News: "Hunger hits home in Texas," (November 23, 2006, pages B1, 22), what with me preparing to do my annual, over-the-top, Thanksgiving Day "pig out!"

Ready for this news?

Over 12 million households in the U. S. worry about where the next meal is coming from. Of that number, 1.3 million live in Texas.

Actually, this is "good news" for the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that issued the report. The percentage of Americans who are concerned about having enough to feed themselves and their families declined by a bit less than 1% last year, the first decline since 2001, from 11.9% to 11%.

Texas lags behind the national average at 16% of the population facing hunger as a regular part of life. No real surprise there. Only New Mexico and Mississippi recorded higher percentages. The news report noted that the number of Texans worrying about food equals the number of households in Dallas and Collin counties combined.

Lots of folks.

Of course, the USDA devised a way to soften the news this year. No where in the report is the word "hunger" used. Rather, this analysis describes "food insecurity."

Feel better?

I don't.

I have watched our numbers skyrocket this year in our hunger relief Resource Center here in Dallas. We will finish the year approaching a 50% increase in demand for our food services.

Too many Texans have to depend on others for their food needs. Too many Americans do as well.

So, what's the answer?

Like most community issues, moving in a positive direction will involve a number of determined decisions.

1. People of faith need to get serious about hunger. This will mean that every congregation in the nation will have some plan for responding to the emergency and chronic food needs of its neighbors.

Beyond compassionate first steps, people of faith must put more pressure on elected officials and public policy makers to craft more comprehensive responses to widespread hunger. Faith leaders need to speak out, train their congregants and organize to see things improve. Resource rich congregations should partner across communities with resource poor congregations to form anti-hunger coalitions that speak with one voice to the issue.

2. The USDA's Food Stamp program works when it is made available to low-income, working people. Designed for working families, the program works for everyone--consumers, producers and retailers all benefit from the Food Stamp program.

The problem in Texas is simple. The state refuses to take the steps necessary to make the benefits available to every person and family that needs it. Enter people of faith to apply the necessary political pressure to see our state's performance improve for the sake of the hungry.

3. The minimum wage needs to be increased, the housing voucher program restored to previous levels and the Earned Income Tax Credit needs to be strengthened and expanded. These steps will allow low-income wage earners to more adequately provide for their families. Each of these steps benefit every sector of our economy while rewarding people for their hard work.

No one should be hungry or "food insecure" in Texas or the U. S. No one needs to be. Change is up to us.

6 comments:

RC said...

Larry,

When you started writing about what churches can do it made me wonder if there is a resourse which gives a plan for churches in the way they do benevolence? I have a gut feeling that where I preach we are doing basic giving to the poor in the wrong way. I think we could do more and I think we could do it more efficient. If there is not a book or an article I would really appreciate you taking the time to offer som guidance. I know you have seen just about everything from churches. No one in America should be hungry period.

Anonymous said...

What does the state of Texas need to do that it hasn't done to make food stamps available?

Jeremy Gregg said...

RC:

Here is one thing that churches can do:
http://www.centraldallasministries.org/campaigns/hunger/

Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for the post. In recent years, Texas has "downsized" its service delivery system. Cuts to program funding coupled with closing many certification centers have combined to see the numbers of Texans eligible, but not enrolled grow dramatically. The re-certification process is also more onerous than it needs to be, especailly in view of the meagre level of Food Stamp benefits. The current situation is all the result of a very determined public policy strategy to deny benefits to the poorest of our citizens.

Anonymous said...

If you google food stamps, one can apply on-line. Am I wrong? Seems like an easy process to me.

Larry James said...

Anonymous, thanks for your post. In Texas, at least, it is not that simple at this point. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services has outsourced its services through the private company Accenture. The new system is still in a pilot stage and working only in Travis and Hays counties. Accenture claims that once the glitches are removed a person will be able to apply for the Food Stamp program in person, by mail, fax, phone or on-line. So far, that is not working out very well.

How many families needing food stamps have access to the Internet? Nationwide approximately 40% of those eligible are not receiving the benefit.

Part of the problem has to do with the cultural stigma of the program. Most has to do with the certification process and the time it takes to turn application into benefits--up to 2 months.

In Texas, since deciding to outsource, enrollment centers have been closing down. Here at CDM, we offered to fund a case worker to take applications in our large community center. The state was not interested.

It is just not an easy process. We continue to lobby for improvement and we will continue to do so.