Safety Net

VIDEO: Citizens Tell Congress about Hunger in America

Following Bill O’Reilly’s ludicrous claim that child hunger is a “myth,” eight citizens—including a television executive—visited Congress to tell lawmakers about their experiences with nutrition assistance programs and explain that we must strengthen them to further protect the health and well-being of children and improve their long-term outcomes.

Three of these advocates share their stories here.

Whatever Bill O’Reilly thinks, child hunger is real and an issue Congress needs to tackle.

Posted by TalkPoverty.org on Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Editor’s note: Tell Congress to Protect and Strengthen Vital Nutrition Assistance Programs Now.

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Culture

I’m Homeless. I’m Sorry You Feel Helpless

You’re angry with me. I can see that. You see me sitting on the sidewalk counting change and looking up at the door to a McDonald’s. I’m dirty and I smell, and nothing about that is your fault.

You’re angry with me, I can tell. Not because I did anything wrong, but because of the way I make you feel. I make you feel helpless. You know that there is nothing that you can do to make me not homeless. I make you feel afraid that this might be you someday. I make you feel disgusted that anyone could live this way, and none of that is your fault.

You’re angry with me. I can tell. Not because of what I’m doing, but because of what I’m not doing. You’re angry that I’m not trying to change. You’re angry that I’m sleeping on the streets; that I spend all day begging for change and not trying to change. You’re angry with me because now I have somehow made this your problem.

You're angry with me, I can tell. Not because I did anything wrong, but because of the way I make you feel.

I’m sorry you see me sitting on the sidewalk counting change and looking up at the door to a McDonald’s. I’m sorry I’m dirty and I smell, and nothing about that is your fault. I’m sorry – not because I did anything wrong, but because of the way I make you feel. I’m sorry I make you feel helpless. I’m sorry that you know that there is nothing that you can do to make me not homeless. I’m sorry I make you feel afraid that this might be you someday. I’m sorry I make you feel disgusted that anyone could live this way, and none of that is your fault. I’m sorry that I’m sleeping on the streets, that I spend all day begging for change. I’m sorry that now I have somehow made this your problem.

I forgive you for being angry with me. Please forgive me for being homeless.

***

He’s not there again today. He has been there every day for years. You’re actually worried. Why? He is just a homeless guy. He’s not there again today. For months you passed him by without a thought. One day you figured, what the heck I’ll give him a buck. He smiles and says thank you and god bless you, and he means it. He’s not there again today.

You started carrying a couple of extra bucks just for him. A couple of times you even brought him coffee. Just a routine, barely a second thought. Doing something nice, giving back, helping out. He’s not there again today.

Do you ask around? Do you put up flyers? Do you call the hospitals or the police? Where did he go? Is he okay? He’s not there again today.

Does he know that you’re worried? Does he know that you care? Before he was gone you had no clue how much he meant to you. He’s no longer just some homeless guy. He’s not there again today.

You knew his face, his smile, his way. His dirty coat, old and frayed. You never even knew his name. Why is he not there? Why did he go away? All you know is, he’s not there again today…

***

We must stand together and speak as one. Let our message spread through the streets like a flood, so that every ear shall hear and every mouth shall speak: We will not be ignored any longer.

 

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Media and Politics

Tell CNN to #TalkPoverty During the Democratic Debate

This post continues our campaign at TalkPoverty.org to ask 2016 presidential candidates about how they would significantly reduce poverty and inequality in this country. 

CNN is hosting the first Democratic Presidential Primary Debate, happening at 9pm ET on Tuesday, October 13—and they’re accepting question suggestions via social media. Tell CNN to make poverty a priority during the debates by suggesting questions through their Facebook post:

We’re teaming up with Facebook for the Democratic debate and our very own Don Lemon wants to hear from you! Do you have…

Posted by CNN on Saturday, October 3, 2015

Here are some question ideas to get you started:

  • Millions of people struggle to balance work and caring for their families. What will you do to ensure that households aren’t forced to choose between their paycheck and family responsibilities?
  • Each year, investments like Social Security, nutrition, healthcare, housing, and tax credits lift millions of people out of poverty, and prevent millions of families from going deeper into poverty. However, conservatives in Congress continue to put these programs on the chopping block. What are your plans to protect and strengthen vital social insurance programs?
  • Since research shows that areas with higher union membership demonstrate more mobility for low-income children, what are your plans to increase workers’ ability to collectively bargain with their employers?
  • Income inequality is increasingly a problem in this country with productivity increasing, while wages are flat or falling. How do you plan to ensure that more Americans benefit from the recovery?
  • Families with young children are facing some of the deepest economic pressures just as their children reach a critical stage of development.  This economic stress can affect their life outcomes. What will you do to improve the economic security of families with young children?
  • The United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, but over 25 percent of the world’s prison population. What measures would you take to address mass incarceration in this country?

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Bill O’Reilly Denied Child Hunger Exists. Here’s How Four Mothers Who Have Faced Hunger Responded.

Unsatisfied with the right-wing media’s usual poor-shaming, Bill O’Reilly has a new target: hungry kids. Although 15.3 million children live in households that struggle to put food on the table, Bill O’Reilly used a recent show to peddle his theory that child hunger is made up.

If you look at the studies of poverty, most poor people in this country have computers, have big screen TVs, have cars, have air conditioning. This myth that there are kids who don’t have anything to eat is a total lie. […] You are telling me that you believe in the United States of America, with all the entitlement programs and food stamps and everything else, there are urchins running around that don’t have any food because of the system?

As Bill O’Reilly apparently does not know a single family straining to make ends meet, we did his homework for him and asked four mothers who have experienced hunger to tell us what they think about his comments:

Bill O’Reilly said show me hunger and I say, “Here I am.” My children have lived through a lot of adverse situations; we have been homeless and have relied on shelters. Without food stamps, my children would starve. When is it okay for children to starve in this country? When is it okay to actively ignore starving children in your country? — Asia Thompson, Pennsylvania

He hasn’t experienced poverty but Bill O’Reilly should know that poverty can happen to anyone. When my twin sons were 9 months old, my husband lost his job and we had to go on WIC to feed our children. This program provided support and the food was one less thing we had to worry about. And as a Head Start teacher, I see firsthand how kids can’t focus in school because they’re so hungry. – Mary Janet Bryant, Kentucky

I used all of these programs for my children, and I am a success story like thousands of other parents. My oldest daughter is in her fourth year of college studying stem cell biology on her way to a PhD. I beg to differ with Bill O’Reilly’s opinion, as he doesn’t have firsthand experience with hunger and poverty. – Vivian Thorpe, California

I think it’s easy to miss the signs of child poverty and hunger in our society because people often look better than they feel. I was less hungry as a kid because my family benefited from WIC, SNAP, and school lunch. I also graduated from high school, college, and graduate school. I have worked hard for 25 years in the TV business and I am the social safety net for my family now. To my way of thinking, Bill O’Reilly is seeing the emperor in a fine new suit of gold-threaded clothes but that emperor is naked. – Sherry Brennan, California

O’Reilly is right about one thing. Without nutrition assistance, hunger would be a lot worse. In fact, 50 years ago, images of malnourished Americans with sunken eyes and bloated bellies helped spur the creation of programs that kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty last year.

But his comments represent an attempt to muddy the waters and reduce public support for action on child hunger. We can’t turn our backs on hungry kids. Instead, we need to protect existing nutrition programs that are threatened by cuts and double down on smart public policies that create jobs, boost wages, and increase access to nutrition assistance benefits for families struggling in today’s economy.

Only then will we actually end child hunger.

Editor’s Note: To hear more from families who have experienced hunger, check out our Community Voices: Why Nutrition Assistance Matters booklet.

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The Art of Balancing the Ledger While in Poverty

When you live at or under the federal poverty level, you’d better be good at crunching numbers. Every cent coming in or going out needs to be accounted for. My day planners have always been filled with the kind of detailed ledger you’d find in any small business: Rent, at $430 with our housing assistance, is at the top of the list, due on the first of the month. Second is Netflix, at $8, due on the 10th. On the 12th, a $25 payment for a credit card that’s maxed out at $500 and has a 12 percent interest rate. My private student loan with a balance of $2,800 is due on the 13th, and it’s often the bill I don’t pay. It has a 3 percent interest rate and a $133 monthly payment. If I am 30 days late, they start calling.

“Are you aware your payment is late?” they always ask.

“Yes,” I say. “Are you aware the payment you want is a fourth of my income?”

I can hear them shrug through the phone.

When you live at or under the federal poverty level, you’d better be good at crunching numbers.

At this point in my life, I can compute rates and payments with the skill of a Wall Street day trader. I use an available balance of one credit card to make a payment on another card. I make $50 payments to two different store cards that have 26 percent interest rates. The phone and internet bill is $50. Electric is $53. Car and life insurance bills are $62. I have two more credit accounts with 20 percent interest rates that have the largest balances, the largest payments, and close out my month with payments due on the 22nd and 24th. I immediately use the available credit on these cards to get gas and toiletries.

For the past six years of putting myself through college, I’ve had lists posted in my home by my desk or on the fridge. They would list my fixed expenses, which usually hovered around $1,100, and my income from work, which usually came in between $300 and $1,300 depending on the time of the year. During school, I received grants and a scholarship but I still came out with $50,000 in debt, a chunk of that due to student loans.

Federal poverty data released in September show I’m not alone as I juggle to make ends meet. While the unemployment rate is dropping, and parts of the economy show signs of improvement, not everyone is benefiting. According to the latest data, I am one of 46.7 million Americans who live in poverty. Factoring in the government assistance we receive for food, housing, health insurance, and child support, my total annual income hovers around $20,000. The current federal poverty level for a family of four is almost $24,000.

Over the last year, I’ve struggled to launch a freelance writing career while caring for my 8-year-old and 15-month-old daughters, and the dog we somehow acquired from the local shelter. Finding full-time work is difficult when you can’t afford daycare. And when money is so tight, even the smallest of wrenches thrown in the sputtering machine can set me back for months.

A wrench can be something as simple as my daughter’s after-school activities. I recently had to tell my older daughter that I didn’t think she could do the Nutcracker try-outs because of the $150 we have to pay upfront, and the make-up and costumes we’d have to pay for. I tried to convince her to do gymnastics again, since the gym gives us a scholarship. These are the conversations I hate the most.

I find myself asking how people in poverty are supposed to work their way out. We work so we won’t need assistance for food or health insurance, but even still, we’re not earning enough to sustain ourselves. Meanwhile, legislators are always looking for ways to pass laws that compromise our eligibility for help. Then there are always the other mishaps of life that can send your ledger spiraling. A broken transmission or a sick child can mean the loss of a hard-earned job.

The possibilities to upend the ledger are endless, real, and exhausting. For most of the last year, I sent my rent check in on time, knowing it wouldn’t be deposited until the 10th. I needed that extra time for child support payments and paychecks from the end of the previous month to go through in order for the rent check to clear. Paying the bills is like walking on rotted floorboards in your own house; at any moment an unexpected expense will cause you to fall through a hole. What’s worse, I have no back-up. No emergency credit card, no savings, and no family to help us out of a bind.

The recent poverty statistics are evidence that the economy may be improving, but not for those of us struggling the hardest to make ends meet. And every month, the scramble to pay the bills starts all over again.

 

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