So who is responsible for poverty and hunger? This question seems to be polarizing Washington D.C. and causing significant discord throughout the U.S. Most responses seem to be ideologically driven rather than informed by facts or personal experiences. So whose problem is it?
Democrats have long argued that the problem is systemic and thus requires significant government intervention and a strong social safety net. There are good reasons for this ideology. First of all, people are predominantly experiencing poverty for the same reasons in our country whether they live in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington D.C. or the West Side of San Antonio. The problem is, in fact, a systemic problem. Without our social safety net our current Recession would have likely been a repeat of a century ago, and our current problems would be much worse than they are now. We learned what financial catastrophe was during the Depression Era, and we are wise not to want to learn the same lesson twice. So our safety net kept us from careening off of a cliff and did precisely what it was designed to do.
Republicans have long argued that poverty is caused by an individual making bad decisions or a lack of personal responsibility. They have also argued to let churches and non-profits manage the work because it is best done on the local level — where the problem actually exists. They too have elements of truth to their ideology. Sometimes people do make bad financial decisions or lack a sense of responsibility that in turn results in poverty. Also, faith communities and non-profits do meaningful work and are able to do so, in part, because they are able to address the problem locally.
We as a nation cannot agree upon who is at fault for poverty and whose responsibility it is to address it. We are bent on it being one type of problem and one sector’s responsibility. The reality is that the problems of poverty and hunger are complex. People experience poverty for a variety of reasons: lack of education, health problems, lack of good paying jobs in their community, and even bad decisions, to name a few. The problem is also too large for one sector to handle on its own. Faith communities and non-profits can and are doing incredible things in our country, but they cannot ensure that 40 million food insecure Americans have access to three healthy meals a day and neither can the government for that matter. However, we can address these problems when we get all parties involved to develop and implement plans together.
Right now in Texas, we have 5.5 million people who are food insecure. Nearly one in four children in Texas are food insecure. Fortunately, each year we have almost $15 billion in public and private allocated resources to address the problem. We also have thousands of organizations statewide doing something about the problem whether they are food pantries or government agencies. If we all work together to build public and private infrastructure (which requires us to admit that there is a problem, the problem is larger than one sector, and that working together will lead us to better solutions than we could come up with independently of each other) then we stand a better chance of identifying duplication which results in waste, and identifying the gaps where children and, too often the elderly, go unnoticed and thus go hungry. Therefore we develop a system of mutual accountability which is able to address a complex problem with simplicity and efficiency.
- Written by Jeremy Everett
Director of the Texas Hunger Initiative