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CEO Learns A Lesson About Food Stamps

Posted on the 26 September 2013 by Jobsanger
CEO Learns A Lesson About Food Stamps While the recession may be over for the rich, it continues for millions of Americans on Main Street -- as far too many people who would love to work are still without a job, and must depend on federal assistance to feed their families. Last week, the Republicans in the House of Representatives dealt another blow to those hurting Americans, but passing a bill that cuts $4 billion dollars a year (for the next 10 years) from the SNAP program (more commonly called food stamps). If that mean-spirited bill becomes law, millions of people would have to be dropped from the food stamp program.
The congressional Republicans would have us believe that there is rampant fraud in that program, and the benefits are too generous and should be reduced. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans (who don't suffer from food insecurity) have bought into those lies.
Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera Bread, thought he understood what food insecurity (hunger) was like for many Americans. Last week, he decided to live on $4.50 a day (the amount he would get in food stamps if he qualified for them). And even though his experiment was only for a week, and not truly indicative of what life is like for the poor, his eyes were opened. Here is some of what he had to say about it in an article for CNN (and the entire article is worth your time):
I thought I knew a thing or two about hunger. I've met thousands of people who struggle to feed themselves and their families, visited dozens of soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters and food banks, and worked closely with nonprofit organizations in trying to find new ways to end hunger.
I really thought I understood the scope of the problem.
But let me tell you something -- I had no clue. My SNAP Challenge last week taught me that merely observing someone else's plight does not hold a candle to consciously altering your habits to better understand what it might be like to live someone else's life.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly called the food stamp program. In the SNAP challenge, you live on a food and beverage budget of $4.50 a day, the average amount a recipient of food stamps gets in benefits.
I was hungry last week -- laser-focused on how much food was left in the fridge and how many dollars were left in my wallet. I was scared about eating portions that were too big, and wasn't sure what to do if my food ran out. I canceled two scheduled dinners, knowing they were way beyond my budget.
But I was doing this challenge on my own. Eighty percent of households that have problems putting food on the table include the most vulnerable -- children, the elderly and the disabled. Most people in the SNAP program would have considered my challenge as a "household of one" to be a luxury. . .
 It was really just an imitation of a very real problem facing millions of Americans -- it wasn't my real life. It was over in a week. No other pressures weighed on my shoulders the way they do on those of people who use food stamps. I wasn't worrying about my car breaking down or not being able to pay for gas or having my electricity turned off or finding work or paying an unforeseen medical bill.
All I had to worry about was my food, and that was challenging enough.
One in six people in this country, or roughly 48 million Americans, face this reality. At the same time, they confront other obstacles and manage to deal with more pressing challenges every day. The statistics are alarming. However, it wasn't until I participated in the challenge and heard stories from the hundreds of people who responded to my blog posts that I really understood what a life of food insecurity means. . .
Unfortunately, the debate we often hear in Washington leads to thinking that the issue can be seen in black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.
We all know there are people who abuse the system. I have no doubt that there are some people who accept SNAP benefits when they either don't need the assistance or may not use them appropriately. But SNAP is really an efficient program. There are small problems with the system -- but there always are in large, complex systems.
Tens of millions of people, most of whom are elderly or have children, rely on this safety net to help them cope with very difficult situations beyond their control. And we can all acknowledge our shared responsibility to help these fellow citizens survive and ultimately create productive lives of dignity.
Throughout my SNAP Challenge, I kept returning to the same questions: What kind of society do we want to live in? Do we want to live in a country that turns a cold shoulder to the problem of hunger, or one in which we work together to face it head on? . . .
If the past week has taught me anything, it's that hunger is not a problem of "them," it's a problem of "us." Hunger exists in every community, in every county, in every state. Simply put, this is our problem to solve, and it's time to do so.
CEO Learns A Lesson About Food Stamps

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