The June 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Court Upholds Legal Rights of Homeless People

Hunger Rises, Food Stamps Cut

National Hunger Survey

Union Busting in El Salvador

CEO Pay Rises, Worker Pay Shrinks

CEOs Scheme to Privatize Social Security

Dee's Story: The Stigma of Being Homeless

Bush's Chronic Homeless Plan

Pepperspray and Torture

How Earth Day Was Co-opted

St. Mary's Center

Life Stories of Homeless Seniors

Hodges Jones

Jose Querdo

Jeannette Hundley

James Jermany

Ken Minor

Lynn Hoberg

Social Justice in the East Bay

100 Teachings of Gandhi

June Poetry of the Streets

Students Poetry


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Hunger Rises, Food Stamp Funding Falls

by Carol Harvey

Due to federal budget cuts, East Bay activists are feeding more hungry people in ever-longer meal lines. Photo by Lydia Gans

"To propose removing hundreds of thousands of hard-working, low-income people from the food stamp program is anything but compassionate."

The stunting effects of prolonged hunger on the bodies, brains, and futures of children are well understood. If lack of proper nutrition persists, one may feel hunger or learn to ignore it; but in the end, one loses one's health, and finally one's life.

Bread for the World Institute, a Christian citizens' nutrition justice lobby, put out an analysis of Bush's Domestic Nutrition Initiatives for fiscal year 2006. It noted that, even as Bush's federal budget proposes food stamp cuts, hunger and poverty are on the rise.

Bread for the World stated that recently released Bush Administration data illustrate that "for the fourth straight year there are more people in the U.S. struggling to feed their families. However, a careful analysis of the president's fiscal year 2006 budget request shows that he proposes cuts to the food stamp program by $500 million over the next five years."

The institute further points out that, "These proposed cuts come at a time when 36.3 million people, including 13.3 million children, live in homes that struggle to put food on the table."

Millions more in poverty

The amount of people falling into poverty is going up by millions every year. U.S. Department of Agriculture data reveal that hunger and "food insecurity" rose from 31.0 million people in 1999 to 34.9 million people in 2002. In 2003 it jumped to 36.3 million.

In light of these alarming statistics, Kim Wade, co-director of the 40-member California State Association of Food Banks, expressed urgent concern about Bush Administration and Congressional cuts to the federal food stamp program.

The California Association of Food Banks represents food banks across the state, from the very small to the very large, including Los Angeles County, one of the biggest food banks in the country. [See]

Allison Pratt, education and advocacy coordinator of one of the member banks, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, seconded Wade's alarm about food stamp cuts.

According to Wade, Bush is calling for a one billion dollar cut in the food stamp program nationwide. In addition, Congress has directed the Agriculture Committee to slice three billion dollars from the Department of Agriculture's budget. Bush and Congress will hash it out at the end and come up with a total.

"Where that (money) comes from," said Wade, "is the fight that is currently being fought, and food stamps are vulnerable."

Agricultural subsidies and food banks are handled in the same committee; and while they previously presented a united front, they are now forced to compete. Though they share the goal of feeding poor and hungry people, agriculture interests are pitted against nutrition interests.

Wade said, "We don't want to do (that) because we partner with farmers all the time." It's all about feeding people, and farms are where the food comes from. Wade pointed out, "People in farm country are hungry, too. So, we try to do an urban-rural coalition that says the food stamp program benefits all of us. Our job this summer is to talk to the Ag Committee saying, 'Don't cut this funding.'"

She noted that they could do anything, going after working families like the president did. "They could say, 'We are going to lower everybody's benefits by a buck.' They could cut off all immigrants. I mean, they could do anything."

National Hunger Awareness Day

Pratt and Wade looked forward to June 7, 2005, National Hunger Awareness Day, when several thousand people from the grass roots visit Washington, D.C., to "raise awareness about the solvable problem of hunger in America," according to National Hunger Awareness Day organizers.

Wade will be one of a three-member delegation from the California Association of Food Banks that will use the occasion to lobby the Congressional Agriculture Committee about food stamp cuts.

Second Harvest, a certifying organization that reviews the food banks for quality, safety, and accountability, is lead organizer of this important event. Second Harvest also solicits vast amounts of food donations nationwide which they then route through the food bank network. [See]

Wade said, "Second Harvest said to the food banks, 'This is the time to come,' and the food banks said, 'Great! We'll be there.' They (Second Harvest) really are collaborative coalition builders. They definitely were the spark that got this going."

The California delegation will meet with members of the Agriculture Committee as well as Senators Boxer and Feinstein to communicate their concerns.

The delegation will visit the offices of each California member assigned to the Agriculture Committee. Members are very busy. Sen. Feinstein, for example, represents several million people. It is more likely they will talk with staff, which does research, and informs and advises the members.

Healthy food for families

Wade told Street Spirit, "Our message to the Ag Committee is how important this food stamp program is in bringing healthy food to hard-working families.

"Our two goals are to protect the food stamp program funding and its structure. Those are under attack this year." The structure of the food stamp program dictates which families can be allowed into the program and which will be denied.

The key funding issue is the amount of money that will be available. "Food stamps (funding) is set up now as an entitlement program," said Pratt, "It just costs what it costs, and the federal government supplies the money no matter what the cost is."

In the TANF, or Temporary Aid to Needy Families Reauthorization Bill, the program would be changed from an entitlement program to a block grant program, "which means they could be getting a lump sum." With a block grant, the federal government provides the states only a flat-rate amount.

The worrisome question then becomes, said Pratt, "What if there is more need than there is block-granted funding?" It is not known whether the amount of the grant will be based on last year's need. And, the question then arises, "What if the need changes?"

Redefining poverty

Providing less money for food stamps is a simple maneuver. The really tricky gambit is Bush's restructuring of the definition of the federal poverty level. His proposal attempts to shrink the poverty level by defining it more narrowly so less money will be necessary.

According to Bread for the World, "The administration plans to enforce these budget cuts by reducing the number of people eligible to receive benefits, especially for low-income working families."

If the president gets his way with the federal cuts, his proposal would eliminate the "Categorical Eligibility" option.

At present, those who are eligible for certain forms of welfare are automatically eligible to receive food stamps. President Bush's proposal would greatly reduce the number of people who automatically qualify for food stamps.

Said Pratt, "When the president proposed his budget cuts in February, the one cut he proposed to the food stamp program was this. Right now, states have the option of automatically enrolling people who are receiving Medicaid into the food stamp program."

"The connection to health care is just another doorway into the food stamp program for working families." Yet Bush's proposal would eliminate that option.

Bread for the World declares, "This proposal strips individual states of flexibility provided in the bipartisan 1996 welfare law that allows states to streamline eligibility for the food stamp program. The most heavily impacted families would be low-income workers because they may have modest savings or own a reliable car."

California is one state that does not have "Categorical Eligibility" for working families with slightly higher earnings, but whose child-care and medical expenses render their net incomes "super low."

Assemblywoman Judy Chu from Los Angeles authored Assembly Bill 696, which proposes that California now create "Categorical Eligibility" and enroll such people automatically in the food stamp program. If President Bush succeeds in eliminating "Categorical Eligibility," California will not be able to do that.

Said Bread for the World President David Beckman, "To propose removing hundreds of thousands of hard-working, low-income people from the food stamp program is anything but compassionate.

"Overall the president's budget misses the mark. It does not balance our nation's need for security with our moral commitment to help hard-working people who are struggling to feed their families to build a better life."

Experiencing the Savagery of Hunger

by Carol Harvey

If you've attempted a weight loss diet, you have an appreciation for the savagery of hunger. That hollow ache in the stomach and debilitating muscle weakness are the reasons most diets fail. Here is a tip. Eating small amounts of food triggers cravings. Try eating nothing. Your hunger will vanish.

Once during a spiritually motivated fast, for 15 days I ingested only water and coffee. I discovered a phenomenon described in Franz Kafka's short story, "A Hunger Artist." Kafka wrote that, in the Middle Ages, people would recline in open cages in the town square eating nothing. Passers-by would toss them coins.

There was a trick to it. For the first few days, they suffered gnawing pangs, which then subsided. This enabled Kafka's hunger artist to fast for prolonged periods.

I learned that fasting was easy. I got very tired, but never hungry.

On day 15, I was scared back to normal eating. My auburn-red hair turned gray. With B vitamins restored, the color thankfully returned. This was my closest brush with starvation.

My fast was a privileged luxury. I always had food available. I was not a member of an impoverished family lacking the means to feed its children an adequate nutritious diet.

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