Tuesday, April 1, 2008

America on Food Stamps

Reposted from the Mailstrom blog

The number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s. The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters but recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched , the NYT reports.

"People sign up for food stamps when they lose their jobs, or their wages go down because their hours are cut," said director of food stamp policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities who noted that 14 states saw their rolls reach record numbers by last December.

In Michigan, one in eight residents now receives food stamps. "Our caseload has more than doubled since 2000, and we're at an all-time record level," said spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services.

From December 2006 to December 2007, more than 40 states saw recipient numbers rise, and in several — Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, North Dakota and Rhode Island — the one-year growth was 10 percent or more. In Rhode Island, the number of recipients climbed by 18 percent over the last two years, to more than 84,000 as of February, or about 8.4 percent of the population. New York - one in ten New Yorkers, 1.86 million, now receives food stamps.

The cost of feeding a family of four on a low-income budget has jumped nearly 6 percent since February 2007, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
"We're just going to see the purchasing power for food stamps continuing to erode, and it doesn't do anything to get commodities up on the shelves in the food banks," said Ellen Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center
"A lot of the staple items - bread, dairy products in particular - have had a sharp increase (in price)," said Dayna Ballantyne, the Johnson County Crisis Center food bank director. "Across the board, our clients are finding they just aren't able to purchase food like they used to."
The amount of food stamp benefits a family is allowed goes up each fall based on inflation. But that increase is based on an estimate of food costs the previous June, and since last June, food costs have risen 5.2 percent, according to USDA."For our clients that do receive food stamps, the amount of food stamps allocated per household hasn't gone up with the food costs. The food stamps they receive haven't gone as far as they used to," Ballantyne said.

Low-income Oklahomans are harmed more by the nation's declining dollar as food stamps are stretched to cover increasing food prices, the state Human Services Commission was told . "Low-income families paying $4 for a gallon of milk and $2 or $3 for a loaf of bread means those food stamp benefits aren't going as far," Hendrick said. More than one of every three Oklahoma kids received food stamps for at least one month last year. More than 417,600 Oklahomans received food stamps in February , up 21 percent compared with six years ago.

About one in every six West Virginians gets food stamps, the highest level of participation in at least 30 years. 274,487 state residents received food stamps. That's up from 246,890 just five years ago, according to here . But while the number of people on the program has jumped sharply, the federal government has raised the average per-person monthly benefits over that time by just $12 to $85.Meanwhile, the cost of food is expected to jump by up to 4 percent this year,Food costs have been increasing by at least 2.4 percent each year since 2004.Added to that budget strain are record gasoline prices.
Sarah Young, a policy specialist with the Department of Health and Human Resources, says the agency is seeing more of the state's working poor applying for food stamps in order to make ends meet."Even those eligible for lower amounts are coming back onto the program because they have less to spend on food," Young said. "These are historically higher rates. I think even nationwide, we're at our highest rates."
Increased demand on food pantries and soup kitchens seem to indicate that poor families are running out of resources to buy food earlier and earlier each month

New Jersey ranks as the nation's second wealthiest state, but 20 percent of its working families -- the equivalent of 750,000 men, women and children -- don't have enough income to support themselves, according to this report . The number of low-income families in the state has climbed to 200,000, up 16 percent since 2000.
The report describes as "low income" a family of four that earned less than $39,942 in 2005 . The Economic Policy Institute has calculated the actual cost of living in New Jersey and concluded a family of four requires an income ranging from $49,572 to $57,144 to be self-sufficient
"One in five households may have a livelihood but it is not sufficient to give them a happy and healthy life," The Rev. Bruce Davidson, director of the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry said

In its 2007 Nashville Living Wage Estimate, Middle Tennessee Jobs with Justice found a family of two working adults and two children needs to earn a gross minimum of $43,076 to provide for its basic needs. That figure, which amounts to two adults earning about $10.35 an hour, isn't what at least 575,000 of the 1.6 million Tennesseans employed in 2007 were able to find.
As Marxists know "In a marketplace economy, the market sets wages…," said David Penn, director of Middle Tennessee State University's Center for Business and Economic Research.
"One of the most famous phrases in the movement is a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Melissa Snarr, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of ethics and society at Vanderbilt University's divinity school."Really, what we are talking about here is whether we want work to include justice … or for lots of people who work to have to get by with something like food stamps."
Naivity at its best, really. Wages are set to ENSURE you don't have enough so that you return each week to labour once more - the reason it is described as wage-SLAVERY.

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