2.23.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: How Hungry is America, Chapter 12

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

How Hungry is America, Chapter 12: Here It Is: The Plan to End Domestic Hunger

Summary:

In this chapter, Berg lays out a plan to "end domestic hunger" by
  1. combining the current programs of the "food safety net" (SNAP, WIC, and some smaller initiatives) into one streamlined program, and
  2. increasing the size of the program by 41%. 
He calls this revamped system the AFFORd (American Family Food Opportunity and Responsibility) program.  Coverage would be wider and more accessible, food choices less restricted.

Berg states that the program would be affordable for both government and taxpayers.  Roughly estimated at a cost of $24 billion in food purchasing power, the total cost could be covered (and rather easily) by a single member of the US's "1%".  This number could also be somewhat mitigated by a raise in wages, also easily accomplished by wealthy corporations.  For reference, tax cuts in the Bush era amounted to about $400 billion in lost government revenue.  Taxing the wealthiest Americans a bit more - getting back some of that $400 billion that was lost - could easily fill the gap.

Other points of AFFORd include universal free school breakfasts; incentives for reducing hunger at the state level; expansion of support for private feeding operations, and expansion of grants for such initiatives to nonprofits (currently only available to faith-based groups); and remodeling of soup kitchen and food bank models to reduce stigmatization and increase choice.  For these things to occur, the gornment needs to stand up to industry bullies and no longer be swayed by the call of campaign contributions.

Berg states that most Americans would support this plan, but anticipates opposition from "a wide range of special interests" from both conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats.  The most poignant criticism is that if all programs are combined, all support could be lost at once.  And yet, "any system in which a third of those eligible don't receive the help they need is broken."  A broken system is better than none at all, but Berg feels that we can and should improve.


Discussion:

I agree: We can.  We should.  Sadly, eight years after the publishing of this near-manifesto, things look much the same as they did before Obama took office.  Is this a failing of the President?  I honestly don't know.  Having worked within the government, Berg is in a much better position than I am - than most of us are - to understand the possibilities and pitfalls of what government can do.  And yet, there is no doubt that it's a major undertaking that could not be accomplished quickly by any administration, no matter how forward-thinking and compassionate.

As far as the details of the plan itself, this one book chapter obviously doesn't delve into the nitty gritty governmental policy changes that the program would necessitate.  I would like to see more about the "responsibility" aspect - would people be required to work?  Would government provide employment, harking back to the WPA era?  So many questions.

Whether or not this plan is The One, I would love to see an improvement to food assistance programs - particularly in allowing people with felonies to receive aid.  After all, if someone gets out of prison and can't find work and can't get assistance, what can they do but return to crime?  This is surely a driver of recidivism.  Given that Louisiana has the world's highest incarceration rate I believe this affects Louisiana, and New Orleans in particular, in no small way.


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