(Special from Crewof42)
Members of Congress are accustomed to making $174,000 a year and $476 a day before taxes. That changed for seven days for 12 members last week. For seven days they lived on $4.50 per day for food … for a week. One in 7 Americans live on $4.50 or $31.50 a week for food, the average for a food stamp recipient in the U.S.
A record 49 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in American history. Forty-four million Americans use food stamps.
Last April, House Republicans passed the Ryan Budget (named after the House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan) which would cut $127 billion from the food stamp program over ten years. As the debt Super Committee nears its deadline on November 23, $1.5 trillion in mandatory “trigger” cuts to Medicare and defense over 10 years is a possibility. Next week a new poverty report will detail levels of poverty among minorities and the elderly. Social Security represents 41% of the income of the elderly. There are 55 million Americans on the program.
“As a person who grew up in public housing I knew what it was like to be poor but being poor when I was a boy was dramatically different than being poor now,” CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) said. “This is a level of poverty we have not seen in this country since the turn of century,” Cleaver added. Cleaver stuck to large apples and cheap eats while on $4.50 a day.
“Food stamps are the difference between chronic hunger and a basic meal for 45 million Americans. In the wealthiest nation on earth, this is immoral,” Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said. Schakowsky participated in a week of self imposed austerity along with Cleaver. Last week a report by the Brookings Institution showed that those living in “extreme poverty” grew by a third over the last decade. Extreme poverty is defined by $5,570 earned by an individual or living on $11,157 for a family of four. “I realized how differently people live who are on the edge,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), another member who ate on $4.50 a day.
More Americans use food stamps now than at any time in the 72 year history of the program which was started in 1939. The twelve members who lived on $4.50 a day for food wanted to spotlight attention on poverty as part of The Food Stamp Challenge conceived by the Fighting Poverty with Faith coalition.
Members skipped banquets, dinners and other food related occasions during their week on the food stamp challenge.
“Never three full meals a day. You had to choose between an apple and a banana … sometimes neither,” Rep. Barbara Lee said (D-CA). “I started looking up where all the food pantries were… All you do is concentrate on food — it’s survival. All you do is think of how you’re gonna get through the day,” she said. In her life before politics, Rep. Lee was once on welfare and wrote in a memoir published this year that, “being on welfare was a humiliating experience but it was also enlightening because I now know firsthand how stressful and frightening it is to think that you can’t meet your family’s basic needs for food…”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, is proposing a $9 Billion dollar cut to the food stamp program. “No program in our government has surged out of control more dramatically than food stamps. And nothing is being done about it,” Sessions told ABC News. “Multimillion dollar lottery winners are getting food stamps because the money is considered to be an asset not an income,” Sessions said on October 20.
Republicans have chosen to couch the issues of poverty and income inequality by defining it as “class warfare.” But the statistics are daunting. The Social Security Administration recently released statistics showing that half of all working Americans are making $26,364 or less — the lowest average wage since 1999. At the same time the number of millionaires increased by 20%. Fifteen million Americans are now unemployed. In 2009, USA Today reported that half of all American children lived in a household requiring food stamps.
No Republicans are known to have taken the Food Stamp Challenge. Four members of the Congressional Black Caucus including Chairman Cleaver, Del. Donna Christensen (D-USVI), and Reps. Lee, Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) participated.