Dec 17, 2007

Demand on food banks reflects lack of adequate benefits through “safety net” programs

The news has been filled with stories of food pantries and soup kitchens that are struggling to meet the growing problem of hunger. These groups are frequently staffed with volunteers and depend on donations. They deserve our gratitude. The growing demand on food banks reflects the failure of our elected officials to provide adequate benefits through “safety net” programs. What happened to the safety net of Food Stamps, Supplemental Social Security Income and TANF cash assistance? These programs were intended to meet the basic needs of low income citizens. It is extremely distressing to see that the official government policy for feeding hungry people is to rely on the charity of food pantries and soup kitchens.

Forty years ago the Food Stamp program was established to end hunger in America. Yet, it was only designed to provide 75% of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined necessary to meet minimum nutritional needs. Poor families were expected to make up the rest with cash. Unfortunately, that is nearly impossible for those who must rely on SSI or TANF. The payment levels for these programs are very low. It is difficult for these people to find extra cash to buy food when they spend every dime available for rent, utilities, and other essentials. As a result our food pantries must deal with constant demands from people who are already receiving help from the safety net.

This is unconscionable. This is not the Depression. People need to be able to get their food from the grocery store and should not have to wait in lines to get a meal or box of food. We cannot continue to rely on the kindness of volunteers and donations to meet a responsibility that we all have towards our less fortunate neighbors. We must insist that our government officials ensure that our safety net does its job.

Jack Frech, Director
Athens County Department of Job & Family Services
[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]

Dec 4, 2007

New report issued:

TANF: Failing America’s Poorest Children
by Athens County Job & Family Services
December, 2007

Executive Summary:
There are currently 5.5 million children living in extreme poverty in the United States. Extreme poverty is defined as living in a family whose income is less than 50 percent of poverty. The 2007 poverty level for a family of three is $17,170 annually. That means for a family of three living in extreme poverty, their income would be less than $8,585 a year.

These children live in desperate conditions of homelessness, unsafe housing, hunger and isolation. Their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and transportation are not being met, let alone their ability to be kids by participating in school or community activities. These children are isolated from society because they are poor. These families suffer, trying to make ends meet without the financial means to do so. As a result, many turn to the welfare system for help.

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has evolved from a safety net designed to help children and their families to one which insures their deprivation. This has happened in virtually all states at the hands of members of both political parties. TANF cash assistance caseloads dropped dramatically during the first years of welfare reform but have leveled off in the past five years.

There are currently 3 million children nationwide that receive cash assistance through the TANF program. States have the flexibility to design the program to meet the needs of their unique situations, yet are setting policies and issuing benefits that they know will not meet the needs of these families. Most state TANF programs, by design, restrict the income of a family to less than 50 percent of poverty. These children live in families who comply with all of the strict rules of welfare reform, yet the benefits they receive are too low to meet basic human needs.

The latest TANF reauthorization did not focus on the dynamics of why families are left on the cash assistance rolls, it focused more on paperwork. Instead of increasing maximum payment standards, states are choosing to spend less money on basic cash assistance and implementing new programs or increasing services through other programs like child care. Families who rely on cash assistance are desperate. Many cannot work or are struggling to find employment. Some are mentally or physically ill or disabled. Not that programs like child care or other support services for the working poor are unimportant; they are greatly needed. But families living at half the poverty level should not be asked to sacrifice their basic needs to support the working poor at much higher incomes. That support should come from those able to afford it.

Meeting basic needs for our most needy citizens should be the first priority for TANF funds, not the last. Now is the time to provide a decent standard of living for America’s poorest children.

Jack Frech, Director

[where: Athens, Ohio 45701]