The newsletter to the General Assembly Mission Council of the Presbyterian Church USA published the following very useful and clarifying report concerning the public assistance programs of the federal government. Whatever your point of view about the efforts of our government to assist the poor among us, the facts of this report are important to understand.
Myths and Facts
Poverty and the federal budget
Renee Hummel, a mother in Staunton, Va., remembers a time when her family was struggling to make ends meet.
“We saved by buying food on clearance that had passed the expiration date,” she says. “I cooked from scratch and never ate out; it took a lot of time, but it sure saved a lot of money. When you’re poor you have to do things to stretch the food. … I watered down my daughter’s apple juice. I watered down her formula, but stopped doing that when she became anemic. That time I got really scared.”
Most of the items in a household budget—rent, utilities, transportation, child care—are fixed expenses. When the car breaks down, a child gets sick, the furnace goes on the fritz or a parent is laid off from work, a struggling family may fall into poverty. When money starts to run out, food—one of the few flexible items in the budget—often must be cut back.
Certain federal programs are designed to help low-income families cover those unexpected costs without going hungry. Those programs include the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as the food stamp program), school lunch and breakfast programs, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), housing subsidies and job training.
Most Christians agree that helping poor and hungry people is an important part of Christian discipleship. But not all agree on what the government’s role should be in this effort. Research by Bread for the World, a Washington, D.C.–based Christian advocacy organization dedicated to ending hunger, suggests that government programs play an essential role in helping low-income families.
MYTH: Federal anti-poverty programs are wasteful and ineffective.
FACT: The programs have a strong track record of efficiently targeting assistance to those who are eligible. For example, while poverty has reached record highs over the past three years, the percentage of households that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers food insecure (struggling to put food on the table) has not gone up, because programs like SNAP and the school lunch program have responded to the rise in need. Nearly 46 million Americans now use SNAP benefits to buy groceries. Half of all SNAP participants are children.
The WIC program currently serves about 9 million people. Women who participate in WIC have fewer premature births, fewer low-birth-weight babies and fewer fetal and infant deaths. Moreover, 4- and 5-year-olds whose mothers participated in WIC during pregnancy have better vocabularies than eligible children whose mothers did not receive WIC.
MYTH: If government programs are cut, churches and private charities can provide the necessary safety net for low-income people.
FACT: The difficult economy challenges churches, soup kitchens and food pantries to step up their efforts, but it simply isn’t possible for these organizations to meet all the needs. For example, if you add up all the food provided by all the charities in the country, the total is only 6 percent of the amount of food that poor people receive from federal food programs.
To read the entire report click here.