The Working Poor: Invisible in America

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2012 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference, which was cosponsored by FRAC and Feeding America. This annual conference provides the chance for hundreds of anti-hunger advocates from all corners of the U.S.  to convene for the purposes of learning and promoting best practices, hearing stories of both tremendous need and triumph over barriers to food security within our respective communities, and also to share the voice of the hungry and poverty-stricken with our nation’s leaders.

The conference opened with headlining speaker David Shipler, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Working Poor: Invisible in America, who spoke about his years spent traveling across the country trying to capture the true nature of what it means to be an American family living the daily fight against poverty. What Shipler primarily found through speaking with thousands of hardworking individuals and families was a common denominator between those who were employed but still facing the constant climb to find a way out of poverty and into the land of enough – and this common denominator nearly always involved hunger and food insecurity. After the demands of rent, utilities, transportation, and even medical costs often necessary to keep one earning a paycheck, food is usually the only semi-optional expense left on the table (certainly no pun intended). When one’s entire budget is subject to the immediacy of what is necessary to sustain a basic functioning of one’s life, how can we expect hardworking Americans in poverty to lift themselves out of their current situation, and further, how are we surprised when we find out that hunger is real in the United States and in our own communities?

This question was perhaps the purpose of the culmination of the week’s events into the final day of the conference, in which advocates met with their members of Congress to discuss the unacceptable problem of hunger and lobby for workable solutions. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of our Congressmen and their staffers, including Congressman Frank Lucas, the Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. We spoke about what Oklahoma’s food banks have been facing in the past year – a sharp decline in USDA Commodities (53%), rising food insecurity represented through record amounts of Oklahomans having to enroll in SNAP (over 620,000), nearly half of which are children, and our partner agencies that have experienced a 30 – 50 percent increase in the need for emergency food assistance in just the past fiscal year. Most importantly, we discussed the ongoing issue of the Farm Bill, which is the single largest piece of legislation affecting our industry in that it provides dollars that go to vital federal nutrition programs and every type of federal distribution of emergency food assistance. Through speaking with Chairman Lucas, it became clear to me that we are fortunate to have a decision-maker in Congress that seems to truly understand the vast scope of the problem that hunger represents, and that it will not only take supporting emergency assistance programs like SNAP and TEFAP, but that it also requires systemic changes that help support and grow the capacity of our local systems of agriculture.

However, one or even a handful of leaders that understand the problem and its possible solutions are not enough. Chairman Lucas impressed upon me that garnering awareness and support for anti-hunger efforts, and subsequently the passing of a just Farm Bill, will take the work of many constituents keeping in frequent contact with their legislators involved throughout all areas of Congress. If your members aren’t called and don’t receive letters or emails about the reality of hunger in the communities that they represent, they simply can’t know the full scope of the problem, and they certainly can’t devise effective solutions on their own. Regardless of the exhaustion we face over the seemingly increasing divisiveness in the political arena, important issues still need to be heard, and hunger is an inexcusable problem that crosses all party lines.  If you’ve never contacted your legislators and would like some information on how to easily navigate the system, please explore the links below. I am also always available to answer any questions related to hunger-related legislation and how we can be effective advocates together!

Contact your Legislator:

Find Your Oklahoma Legislator

Write a Letter

Write an E-mail

Make a Phone Call

Set up a meeting

Five Practical Advocacy Tools Information Packet

Electoral Advocacy:

Voter Registration Information


Torri Christian
Public Policy Manager

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