S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, May 6, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0506.food.htm

Eating on $3 a day
By Andy Brack, Publisher

MAY 6, 2007 - - Imagine if you had to live on $3 a day for food.

"That's not a meal at McDonald's," remarked Jermaine Husser, director of the Lowcountry Food Bank, which annually provides food to more than 154,000 people in 10 coastal area counties.

But $3 a day is almost exactly the average daily amount awarded to South Carolinians on food stamps.

And it's the same average daily assistance provided to folks in Oregon, whose governor recently lived on $3 a day (per person) with his wife to raise awareness of hunger and to encourage the federal government to preserve benefits at the current level. For a week, they ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch, stretched a chicken over several meals and made do with less. By the end of the week, the governor told the press he was cleaning his plate - no matter what was on it.


"What a person can buy for $3 a day can't be healthy food that's going to get you a healthy diet," Husser said.

Oregon, like South Carolina, has a persistently high unemployment rate. With unemployment often comes hunger. Oregon's recent rate, fueled by lingering declines in the timber industry, is 5.2 percent. The Palmetto State's rate, hampered by the loss of manufacturing jobs and a rural economy in much of the state, is 5.9 percent. The national average is 4.4 percent.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, reelected last year to a second term, made reducing hunger an issue in his 2002 race. Since then, it has dropped from having one of the nation's highest hunger rates to middle of the pack, according to media reports.

Kulongoski told The New York Times that his week-long food stamp diet of eating less affected him: "I went to bed earlier because I was tired at the end of the day." He said he didn't think it bolstered his political muscle, but might have left something in the minds of Oregonians about hunger.

Activists plan to march in Charleston on June 5 during National Hunger Awareness Day.

Unfortunately in Oregon, like South Carolina, thousands of people who use food stamps could be disqualified if eligibility rules are restricted as outlined in a proposed farm bill. South Carolina, which received $566 million in food stamp program money from the federal government in 2005, can't afford to receive less in assistance for the hungry. The money it currently gets isn't enough, Husser said.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, an average of 521,125 South Carolinians received food stamps every month in 2005. The rate of participation has increased over recent years, but still only two-thirds of those eligible participated.

Husser's agency, which distributes 9 million pounds of food annually through 320 agencies along the coast, works to provide food to people who aren't helped enough by food stamps, or who fall through the cracks and don't get the assistance they need.

He said participation rates in the food stamp program were lower than they should be because of the red tape people have to go through to get the help.


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"We leave money on the table" and don't get what we could from the federal government because of the red tape, he noted.

Among the things state lawmakers could do to relieve food insecurity:

  • Raise the minimum wage. If people earn more, they're less likely to need assistance and more likely to be able to buy what they need.

  • Adopt an Earned Income Tax Credit. If the state were to adopt this credit modeled after a federal version, disadvantaged people would have more disposable income to meet basic needs.

  • Cut red tape. The state could review DSS procedures to find ways to streamline help so it doesn't take weeks to get. A lot of times when people apply, they need food on a particular day - - not weeks down the road.

  • Participate in National Hunger Awareness Day on June 5. If lawmakers (and newspaper columnists) go on a one-day fast as recommended on this day, they're more likely to be sensitized to needs of the hungry. To learn more, go to: http://www.secondharvest.org.

You can reach Andy Brack, publisher of SC Statehouse Report, at brack@statehousereport.com.

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