Last week, a group of volunteers responsible for Newtown’s Victory Garden at Fairfield Hills went to an orchard in nearby Washington and returned with a half ton of apples in the back of a pickup truck. They delivered them to the FAITH Food Pantry and the Nunnawauk Meadows senior housing complex. The fresh fruit was a welcome addition to the pantry, which along with the food bank run by Newtown Social Services, feeds several hundred Newtown residents every month. Newtown is a generous place, but there are times when even these cupboards are nearly bare.
The persistent need underscores how critical the social safety net of programs such as Social Security, food stamps, welfare, and unemployment have become since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. For some families and individuals, even in town like ours that are not normally associated with privation, these programs are their only protection from persistent hunger and poverty.
Meanwhile in Washington, DC, the House and Senate are deadlocked over a farm bill that will significantly reduce funding for the federal Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. House Republicans want to cut the program by $40 billion over ten years; Senate Democrats have proposed a $4 billion reduction over the same period. There is talk of a compromise reduction in the $10 billion range. This cut in benefits will come on top of another reduction for food stamp recipients that just went into effect on November 1, when a temporary expansion of the program associated with the federal economic stimulus expired.
The US Department of Agriculture reports that the number of Connecticut households that say they do not have a steady and reliable supply of food rose to 13.4 percent in 2012, up six percent from 2000. Most of the people who cope day-to-day with hunger and poverty live in the state’s urban areas, but even Newtown has more than 500 people relying on food stamps. The need is only increasing in an economy that is failing to reclaim the middle class jobs paying decent wages that disappeared over the last six years. Wall Street, which led the way into the global economic meltdown, may have recovered from the Great Recession, but the dividends from that deep pocket of recovery get spent on other things long before it comes time to address hunger and poverty.
Choosing this time to find righteousness in efficiencies wrung from the lives of the neediest people, sadly, seems appropriately obtuse for a Congress with a job approval rating of nine percent. We wish the congressional leaders now negotiating how many billions of dollars they should cut from the food stamp program would pause for a moment to answer the question posed this week by Lucy Nolan, the executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!: “Poor people did not get us into the economic situation, so why do they have to get us out of it?”