Friday, December 9, 2011

Hunger Incorporated

     This article is brought to you by the Department of Hooey and the Ad Counsel. Anyone who has watched television or listened to the radio is familiar with these public service announcements which use tax payer money, ostensibly to make our lives better. The ads that really bother me are the ones that promote the premise that the United States is in the midst of a hunger epidemic, a notion that would be laughed at in parts of the world where people actually have no food to eat. In these commercials, the speaker is suppose to be someone we interact with in our daily lives and is secretly suffering from hunger. They tell us that one out of every six Americans is affected by the hunger "epidemic". Logic, reason and the facts don't support this premise.
     The Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, reports that there are now 47 million Americans (15% of the population) receiving assistance from the program. The average payout in Northeast Ohio (which is where I am located) is $200/month per individual. A household can make 130% of the poverty level and receive food stamps. This means that a family of four can make just over 30k/year and still qualify for taxpayer funded groceries. This may not seem like much, but I wonder what percentage of those people have cable television, Internet and cell phones. My guess is it's the majority.
     Food banks are another source of taxpayer-funded food for "the hungry", although many don't realize their tax dollars are helping fund them. Food banks originated in Phoenix Arizona in 1967 and the idea quickly spread throughout the country. The idea is a good one, people donate food and money to help their neighbors that have fallen on hard times. Today, however, 80% of the food banks in the U.S. are operated by an organization called Feeding America. Feeding America has recently received a pledge from the Obama administration for 1 billion dollars in support, funded by taxpayers. There are over 37 million people who avail themselves of the free handouts paid for by taxpayer money. While there are no statistics (that I could find) on what percentage of the people using food banks also receive food stamps, my guess is it's fairly high.
     Another taxpayer funded program to feed the hungry is the school lunch program, which has been expanded to breakfast, and in some areas of the country, dinner. Many of the children being fed by the school lunch program come from homes where the parents are receiving food stamps and regularly avail themselves of free handouts from the local food bank. According the Department of Agriculture, 50% of school-aged children receive some assistance from the school lunch program and a family of four can make up to 40k a year and still qualify. In some areas of the country, such as Philadelphia, there are no restrictions and the program is open to all children. I find it unfathomable that as a society we don't expect people with children to provide the basic essentials for those children.
      In total, the federal government spends a whopping 80 billion dollars a year to feed people through various programs. With this much money up for grabs, hunger has become an industry that is rife with corruption. Like any other industry, they must convince people of the need for their services.. I don't think the assertion by the hunger industry that the U.S. has a hunger problem can co-exist with adult obesity rates of 33.8% and an obesity rate among school-aged children of 17.4%. And the obesity rates are highest among the population being helped by anti-hunger programs. Compared to 40 years ago when the obesity rates were around 10 and 4 percent respectively, it seems to me we don't have a hunger problem in this country but a gluttony problem.
     I don't want anything I've written here to suggest I believe that absolutely no one in this country goes hungry at sometime. However, I don't believe it's a problem that we need to spend 80 billion dollars a year to "fix", especially when we have trillion dollar deficits and a national debt that is quickly approaching 20 trillion dollars. James Madison, the primary author of the constitution, once said that there is no charity in the constitution. I guess Mr. Madison never heard an Ad Counsel commercial.

No comments:

Post a Comment