Despite Numerous Anti-Hunger Organizations, Many Go Hungry

'Food Insecurity' Cannot Be Solved by Charity Alone

Not Enough: Hungry New Yorkers gather for a meal in a soup kitchen, but countless Americans still go hungry every night.
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Not Enough: Hungry New Yorkers gather for a meal in a soup kitchen, but countless Americans still go hungry every night.

By Leonard Fein

Published February 16, 2013, issue of February 22, 2013.
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Let us speak of SNAP.

“SNAP?,” you ask. “What is SNAP?”

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly know and still best recognized as the food stamp program. And now it is in danger.

Here’s the story: SNAP has benefited enormously from the 2009 Recovery Act, which temporarily boosted SNAP benefits. But come November, the boost will end and benefits will be cut for every SNAP household.

What does that actually mean? According to the best projections (from the Congressional Budget Office), the cut will amount to $300 a year for a family of four.

That doesn’t sound like very much — but it works out to a benefit package of about $1.30 per person per meal, an amount that nutrition experts deem inadequate to meet a families’ basic food needs. That is the draconian level to which SNAP was reduced by Congress in 2010. SNAP beneficiaries include 22 million children (of whom 10 million live in what is termed “deep poverty,” with family incomes below half the poverty line) and more than nine million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.

Yes, there are many anti-hunger agencies, charitable organizations such as Feeding America, the nation’s largest anti-hunger organization which last years had a budget of $678 million and, of course, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. But the dimension of the hunger problem far exceeds the capacity of charitable organization to respond adequately. So, for example, if all Feeding America’s $678 million program budget were used to provide meals for people in need, that would feed each of the 50 million Americans struggling with hunger — or, as is these days the preferred term, “food insecurity” — for a total of, gulp, three days.

We get a more painful sense of the dimensions of the problem if we examine the extraordinary commitment of $2 billion by Walmart to the funding of anti-hunger programs. But the awesome truth is that even if Walmart were to assign all its net profits (roughly $15 billion in 2011) to the battle against hunger, that would cover less than 20% of the $78 billion government dollars allocated to SNAP in 2011.


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