Well, here we are, America. It's Sequester Day! Great news if you're obsessed with smaller government no matter what, terrible news if you care about people. Oh I jest! A little. What worries me most about the new cuts is that the people who will feel it the most, soonest, are the poorest among us.
I worry about people like Barbie Izquierdo, a single mom in Philadelphia who was trying to feed her two kids on food stamps. Barbie's story is told in the new film, A Place at the Table. She got a full-time job. But even with that full-time job, she still wasn't quite making enough money to feed her family. And with these new cuts, I'm worried people like her will lose their jobs.
It's an odd coincidence that after years of being on assistance, Barbie found a job helping other people apply for food stamps. But that's what she's doing now. It's gratifying, in a way. But it also doesn't pay much at all -- and yet she's still making too much money to qualify for any assistance. She's between that rock and a hard place too many Americans find themselves.
Meanwhile, Barbie has two small children at home with growing bodies that need to be fed well:
I know what it's like to have your children look at you in your eyes and tell you that they're hungry and you have to force them to go to sleep as if they did something wrong.
Her youngest, Aidan, already has health problems that come from malnutrition -- an immune deficiency disease that's already causing hearing and speech problems. When he starts school he'll already be a step behind his peers because of those speech and hearing problems. He's barely gotten started in life, and the deck is already stacked against him.
I think what breaks my heart is the way Barbie talks about personal responsibility. "It's up to me." She takes two buses to get to the grocery store. She promised herself she wouldn't feed her kids the same cheap processed food she grew up with, but she's finding now she can't afford to keep her promise. She's doing all she can. And when I watched her story, I wondered -- am I doing all I can to help people like Barbie feed her family right?
Because I do think it's partly my responsibility. A Place at the Table shows how, in the last century, America had a hunger epidemic. So we began government programs that addressed hunger on a large scale. And we did it -- we ended hunger. Then the economy tanked toward the end of the 1970s, Reagan was elected, hunger programs were slashed, and it's back: Hunger is an epidemic once again. Charities, food banks, and soup kitchens can't keep up with the demand and they definitely can't solve the problem. They're just a temporary band-aid.
We know how to solve this problem. We have the statistics that prove that investing in nationwide hunger programs SAVES US MONEY IN THE LONG RUN. But we lack the political courage do to it. Is this really the kind of country we want?
A Place at the Table is in theaters nationwide, and has been released on iTunes and ON Demand. Forget all the stories people have told you about food stamp fraud (that's gone way down since the welfare system was overhauled in the 1990s). Watch with an open mind, and then ask yourself, what do you think we should do about hunger?
Have you ever been on assistance? Did things get better after you found work?
Image via Participant Media/YouTube