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Is America Teetering on the Edge of the Hunger Cliff?

Poverty rates have not gone down and hunger in our country may be at its highest levels since the Great Depression.

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The real irony of the Republican effort to cut food stamp benefits in the name of trimming government waste, is that there is quite possibly no less wasteful program in the federal budget. For every dollar spent on making sure that children especially have got enough to eat, food activists argue that the U.S. saves in special education costs, in lifelong health and hospitalization costs, in prison costs.

But Joel Berg says that even if the latest Republican attempt to cut food stamps fails, recipients will see their benefits reduced (by an average of $30 to $50 per household for a family of three), when a temporary boost to the SNAP program voted in as part of the Recovery Act in 2009 is scheduled to end on November 1. 

On October 2, activists and religious leaders gathered at America’s largest place of worship, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper Westside to protest what they called ”the hunger cliff,” the date, now less than a month away, when automatic cuts in food stamps take effect. 

Triada Stampas a senior director of the Food Bank of New York City, the largest emergency food service in the country, told the gathering that these impending reductions will take away 76 million meals from poor people in New York City alone, which is more than all the food pantries, soup kitchens and home delivery programs put together provide in a year. 

Stampas says that “charity alone is not going to solve this problem.” Only government can do that. But with sequestration and the federal shutdown, many vital programs are in peril. The Emergency Food and Shelter Program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Food and Nutrition Service have already suffered hits.The level of food stamp benefits remains in question. 

Joel Berg says that illusionists in the Congress are engaged in a process of misdirection: “With one hand they hold up the shiny object they want you to see, and with the other hand, they’re hiding the rabbit that they don’t want you to see. They are bringing up the fiscal cliff, bringing up the government shutdown, bringing up Obamacare—all to distract the American people away from the fact that poor Americans are having their food benefits, their housing benefits, their basic survival benefits cut.”

Berg and others are calling on the U.S. to get its priorities straight and step back from the hunger cliff that threatens millions of the most vulnerable among us.

Richard Schiffman is an environmental journalist, poet and author of two books. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Atlantic, Reuters, NPR and the Guardian, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @Schiffman108


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