Developing a System of Accountability

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

This post can be found on the Huffington Post Website

The Role of Partisanship towards Hunger

Baylor University had the privilege of talking to Congressmen Chet Edwards on April 17, 2012. His lecture , “What is Wrong With America,” was inspirational and displayed a transparent view of US politics which informed the audience on what was going on in Capitol Hill leaving political jargon aside. A diverse representation of each and every generation filled Baylor University’s Bennett Auditorium. He instilled an inspiration for a better America leaving the audience with a desire not only to influence change, but to go out and achieve it.

Congressmen Edwards’ strongest emphasis was the growing partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Edwards is not the first (or only) to claim that partisanship remains the strongest it has been in American history since the Civil War.  The role of media takes responsibility in continuing to fuel this growing animosity. By tailoring their content to reflect one-side of the story rather than presenting an unbiased opinion, the “right-wing” Fox News and the “left-wing” MSNBC have consistently failed to identify actual news. As a result, many of us have noticed news networks have turned more into reality television rather than relevant content.

Unfortunately, the growing partisanship comes with additional consequences. Both Democrats and Republicans are failing to reach common ground on a variety of issues including hunger.  Currently, Texas ranks second in food insecurity in the US with nearly 1 out of every 5 Texans living in poverty. Only half of the people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are taking advantage of its benefits. The obligations we have to provide for our families and the responsibilities we have for our children cannot be so carelessly overlooked. With the proposed budget cut from the House Committee, SNAP faces huge budgetary cuts. This blow could be devastating to the families that rely on this program to get back on their feet and provide for themselves.

Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget changes SNAP/Food Stamps into a block grant program rather than an entitlement program. Ryan believes that this protects the safety net from becoming a “hammock,” a common misconception. Currently SNAP remains an “entitlement program” therefore the assistance it provides guarantees access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation. A block grant is a large sum of money granted by the national government to a regional government with only general provisions as to the way it is to be spent. This would drastically reduce the number of people eligible receive SNAP, as well as reduce the already small amount of money they receive. The House budget includes $4.6 trillion in tax cuts targeting social programs and denial of health insurance coverage to millions under health reform.

“Stigma associated with the SNAP program has led to several common misconceptions about how the program works and who receives the benefits. For instance, many Americans believe that the majority of SNAP benefits go towards people who could be working. In fact, more than half of SNAP recipients are children or the elderly. For the remaining working-age individuals, many of them are currently employed. At least forty percent of all SNAP beneficiaries live in a household with earnings. At the same time, the majority of SNAP households do not receive cash welfare benefits (around 10% receive cash welfare), with increasing numbers of SNAP beneficiaries obtaining their primary source of income from employment.” (SNAP to Health)

We’ve continued to hear the growing animosity and bickering between both parties, but when do we put our political differences aside and come together for a simple necessity like feeding a hungry child. Partisanship has taken a deeper foothold in our country; in our current society we watch the news that we want to watch, and are less open to new ideas, or even to listening to different view points on key issues. As a result hunger has been steadily pushed back on the agenda and failed to grasp the attention of policymakers and citizens alike.

Written by Tariq Thowfeek

Communications Coordinator  for THI