Anchorage Press: On Food Stamps and Alaska's Senators
Invisible. That’s the word which comes into my mind when I think of America’s strange relationship to all public policy surrounding hunger. Common sense leads one to believe this issue is a no-brainer. Since birth, the constant companion to the human experience is hunger. The need for food is so basic, it cuts across all lines of social construction.
Unlike the other two basic needs — shelter and clothing — hunger is not visibly apparent during the experience. We can see the physical result of being naked. Their skin is exposed. Likewise, we can see homelessness. The person is sleeping outside of defined structure. However, hunger is an internal response to a lack of food. It is not demonstrative until after it is experienced.
Usually, a person is hungry for a while before family and friends notice a change in his or her physique. They might even receive compliments, saying how good they look in a smaller body, because we live in a culture celebrating willpower.
This celebration of willpower backfired on America in World War II. Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) leadership, American forces remained out of the European-based war until the very last minute. It took direct provocation from Japanese forces on December 1, 1942 before FDR earned enough popular support to call a draft.
Those brave men and women who responded to their nation’s call wanted to serve their country. This was evident in the number of men who walked to the induction station, as they had no money for train, car or horse. The military learned something with each new young person reporting for duty. Mentally, the young people were ready to go to war. Physically, they were not. Many were too malnourished to begin basic training and required upwards to two weeks of feeding before engagement in exercise.
Based on the argument that feeding the populace is a matter of national security, the citizens elected to make decisions concerning how best to spend the national pool of tax monies and created what we call today, the social safety net.
Food stamps, along with school meals, fall into that category. Every budget cycle an omnibus, or collection of small bills related to the same industries, called the Farm Bill wades through Congress. Because we are speaking of governmental contracts and subsidies, most of the bill is about spending grants, not regulations.
An amendment to the Farm Bill concerning food stamps passed the House last week on June 21. It cut $2o billion from the food stamp budget over 10 years. The vote was close, 213 to 211.
I know. It is amazing that we can find 211 elected men and women who do not wish to devote money towards the feeding of their fellow Americans.
In the Senate, there were two votes, 68 to 30 and 86 to 11. The votes centered around the $20 billion in cuts. Alaska’s senators voted correctly both times, supporting a tabling of the controversial cut until after the July 4th recess. This is commendable. Thank you Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.
Hunger in Alaska is very well documented. The Food Bank of Alaska does a good job keeping this basic need visible in the state conversation. According to its website, 103,000 Alaskans, or roughly 1 out of 7 are food insecure. Their income is such that food is not guaranteed in their lives. This translates into 1 out of 5 children suffering from hunger at some point in the month.
82,000 Alaskans are enrolled in SNAP, or food stamps.
At the time of this writing, the Department of Public Assistance has yet to hire sufficient staff to dispense said food stamps in a timely manner. The wait time is 45 days from the date of application.
When this piece of legislation is reviewed again, dear Senators, may you please include funding for the administration of the program.