One can’t help but wonder how far-right Republicans who led last week’s House vote to cut the federal food stamp program $4 billion a year over the next decade would react to Thursday’s Page One story indicating a vastly under-served population of Capital Region seniors.
The numbers provided at a press conference at Schenectady’s Inner City Ministry were staggering: Only three in 10 of the 37,000 Capital Region seniors who are eligible and could benefit from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (a k a food stamps) have even bothered to sign up.
According to officials from SICM, AARP New York and Hunger Solutions New York, there any number of reasons why: Seniors are concerned about depriving families (e.g. those with children) whom they consider needier, of help; the application process is lengthy, confusing and, in some people’s minds, intrusive; some are too proud, while others fear that, after all they have to go through to apply, they’ll only get $16 a month worth of benefits. (The average benefit for seniors in New York state is $170.)
Sadly, some of these concerns are valid: SNAP resources are limited, essentially by politicians in Washington, some of whom feel that the 47 million Americans the program serves aren’t all deserving. Undoubtedly, some aren’t; as with virtually any government program (and not just welfare), there’s fraud with food stamps. And 47 million — roughly one-sixth of the population — is a remarkable number of hungry people. But even though some politicians seem to be unaware, the Great Recession took an enormous toll on this country. Even though a lot of people have found jobs since it officially ended, they’re not making as much money as they used to, they’re not getting benefits like they used to, and thus they’re less able to buy food.
Plus there’s the likelihood that seniors aren’t the only ones shying away from seeking help, either because — like the seniors — they’re too proud or don’t want to be stigmatized, they dread the application process, or have heard that the benefits aren’t worth it.
But in a country as wealthy as the United States, hunger anything close to this level is a disgrace — as are efforts to avoid addressing it.
Government needs to get out of denial mode and do more to assure that all Americans can put food on their tables. That not only means providing adequate money for food stamps and other nutrition programs, but supporting outreach efforts (like the ones obviously that are failing in this region) so those in need are taken care of instead of being shamed and made to feel like freeloaders.