For Phyllis Bean, higher food prices mean going hungry so her 4-month-old baby girl can eat.How can it be that the richest nation on earth has 10% of its population needing assistance to afford food while CEO's, even disastrous ones, receive millions.
The Washington resident's $280 monthly food stamp allotment doesn't last very long these days, even though she gets a free lunch at a culinary training program at D.C. Central Kitchen. By mid-month, Bean is often reduced to eating canned ravioli and peanut butter and jelly so she can afford to buy milk and baby cereal for McKiya. By month's end, her refrigerator is empty.
"When I go to the counter, I have to put some of my food back so I can get her food," said Bean, 21. "I try to buy less meats and more starchy food that will last me - noodles, ravioli, rice, peanut butter and jelly."
Soaring food costs are putting a strain on many Americans' budgets. In the first three months of the year alone, they jumped 5.3%, and that's on top of a 4.9% increase in 2007.
But for those on food stamps, higher prices for milk, eggs, bread and other staples often mean tough choices and empty bellies. Many are forced to forgo fresh vegetables and meat, while loading up on pasta and potatoes. Others are turning to churches, food banks and other charities, which are already strained by the increased demand.
To alleviate the crunch on the nation's roughly 28 million people on food stamps, advocates are calling for Congress to pass a temporary mid-year boost in benefits. They are also fighting for changes in how the monthly allotment is computed to make it better reflect the expenses of today's recipients.
"It's been very tough for families," said Stacy Dean, director of food assistance policy for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank. "They don't have the flexibility in their budgets so they just don't buy as much food or they buy cheap food or they skip meals altogether. Congress can and should act to help people survive the spike in prices."
One in 11 Americans receive food stamps, according to federal statistics. As the economy weakens, more and more people are turning to this support system. Households receive an average of about $1 per person per meal. Individuals' payments are capped at $162 a month while a family of four can get a maximum of $542 a month.
The American Middle Class is on life support and without a clear understanding of this phenomenon it will continue to die off. The Middle Class votes against their own economic best interests all the time and the proof is in the growing numbers of hungry within the country.