Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Our Government At Work:
Could We All Live On Food Stamps If We Had To?

Oregon Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and his wife, attorney Mary Oberst, have enough money to get by and meals are generally no problem. But things will be different this week. I'm not sure if his idea is going to work, but at least he's going to give it a try.

This is Hunger Awareness Week in Oregon, and for the next seven days, Kulongoski and Oberst will be cutting way back - down to the budget one would live on if relying on food stamps ñ a diet they hope others will also follow for a few days to better understand the plight of those who have no choice.

They'll spend just $3 a day apiece on their meals, $42 in all, to match the amount spent by the average food stamp recipient in Oregon. "I'm gonna probably go back to what I remember in college, Top Ramen and hot dogs," said Kulongoski. "The problem is we've just been reducing the money and the eligibility rolls of those who can get food stamps," said Kulongoski, who lived in a home for boys as a child and worked his way up, with a boost from the GI bill. "At the same time, those on food stamps are getting less."

The Bush administration has proposed several cuts to the program, among them taking away food stamps from about 185,000 people who qualify only because they receive other non-cash government assistance. The Department of Agriculture budget, as proposed, would also eliminate a program that gives boxes of food to nearly half a million seniors each month.

The administration has proposed some changes hailed by hunger advocates, like excluding retirement savings from income limits, and setting aside money to encourage food stamp recipients to purchase more fresh produce.

Oregon's first couple are the most-high profile people so far to take part in a "food stamp challenge," a growing trend sponsored by religious groups, community activists and food pantries across the country. The goal is to walk the proverbial mile in the steps of those who rely on food stamps to feed a family, to kindle both awareness, and, hopefully, empathy.

Those who've done the challenge say it can leave you both physically enervated and mentally exhilarated. They say shopping on such a tight budget requires plenty of planning, a reliance on inexpensive staples like beans, rice and peanut butter, and forgoing more expensive fresh fruit, vegetables and protein. A slice of pizza or a cup of coffee becomes a nearly unaffordable luxury. Cheating by using staples already on hand, like ketchup or olive oil, is discouraged.

Hunger has been a major issue in Oregon, ever since the state was embarrassed by having the country's highest hunger rate in 2000. Hunger groups launched an effort to get more people signed up for food stamps, and the state's ranking fell to 17th.

I guess I've got three points on this issue. Number one is that fact that many people take these government subsidies and don't ever get off their lazy butts to get a real job, making real money. And then they have the nerve to complain and populate the world with more children. That sucks. Not fair to me and not fair to the children. There needs to be some employment requirement in the governments plan.

The second point is eliminating anything for the elderly. Many of them have worked their entire lives looking forward to retirement only to find out that it's not the "end of the rainbow" they thought it would be. They have to decide in many cases whether to buy their prescription drugs or eat food. That really sucks. I have a lot of respect for the aged...I'm going to be one of them someday.

Lastly, it's the homeless. Many of them are veterans of wars we've long forgotten about. Why do we do that? We need to help the homeless. Give them something to live for...strive for. Sure there's some idiots that just want to take advantage and like living off of you and me. But then there's the ones who are truly down on their luck. The ones we really need to help. Some of them even have kids who have to panhandle to get food. That really, really sucks.

I occasionally give money to someone who asks. But I'd rather buy them a meal. Years ago I was entering a Taco Bell and this guy asked me money for food. I told him "No!" but then told him I'd buy anything he wanted off the menu. We went into the Taco bell together, only to be looked at by the employees of the store like I was some kind of idiot. I asked him what he wanted and he said the taco special. That was 10 tacos! I figured, what the heck. I bought him the tacos and a drink and he wandered off to the corner to eat them. Every last one of them. I guess in this case, he was a man of his word and the way he scarfed those tacos, he was definitely hungry.

I'm as guilty as the next guy in the plight to feed the people who really need the food. So slap me silly. I know I fall into the category of people who only seem to focus on hunger and food insecurity around the holidays. Maybe I should change my thought on this cause my final word is totally true...

People are hungry year-round.