CONGRESS HAS so far made only minor restorations in its severe cuts in food stamps and other nutrition programs imposed as part of last year's welfare reform legislation. As a result, more people will be seeking the services of food banks in Maryland and elsewhere. Already, these groups are seeing increased demand, which they are not able to meet.
According to a nationwide study by the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy, the cuts will lead to an unprecedented decrease in the amount of food available to hungry Americans, and private food banks and other charitable agencies won't be able to to fill the gap. The Maryland Food Bank, Maryland's largest anti-hunger advocacy organization, handed out some 12 million pounds of food in 1996. But the cuts in nutrition programs are equivalent to an average of 65 million pounds of food each year in this state alone. That could create a shortfall more than five times larger than the amount of food the Maryland Food Bank distributed all last year.
Without significant action from Congress, Maryland can expect a resurgence of hunger in this state. Bill Ewing, executive director of the Maryland Food Bank, says that his organization is already seeing people who are hungrier and who are being forced to make choices between eating and paying for utilities. Meanwhile, their neighborhood emergency food pantries are running dry.
No doubt individual Marylanders will be moved to make more contributions to local food banks. But as important as their generosity is in meeting these needs, it will take significant action in Washington to prevent a rise in hunger and all the problems it produces.
A central premise of welfare reform is that people now dependent on government aid will be expected to seek employment and, ultimately, work their way into self-sufficiency. But holding a job, especially the kind of low-wage work that will be available to most people now on the welfare rolls, does not mean they will be able to afford an adequate diet. Even now, more than one-fourth of the people in Maryland who use soup kitchens or food pantries to feed themselves or their families are already employed in some capacity.
Welfare reform was supposed to move people from dependency to self-sufficiency. But by including steep cuts in nutrition programs -- and not correcting them -- Congress may well be turning that well-intended effort into a shameful watershed marking a return of widespread hunger to the richest country on earth.
Pub Date: 08/04/97