Republican Food Stamps Cut Might Impact Health Needs Of Nation

Might the Republican zeal to constrict government programs and limit the number of people from receiving some services actually cost the country more in the long run? Some studies have suggested that very well may the case, as with food stamps.  With nearly 700,000 people potentially being cut from the federal program comes a consequence that deserves national attention. 

One study that Dr. Berkowitz led found that receiving SNAP benefits was associated with a reduction in annual health care spending of about $1,400 per person among low-income adults. Another study found that each additional $10 of monthly SNAP benefits was linked with a lower risk of hospitalization for Maryland residents enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. In Massachusetts, an increase in SNAP benefits slowed the increase in Medicaid hospitalization costs.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is similar to SNAP, but as its name suggests, it provides nutritional support only for low-income mothers and their young children. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the prevalence of obesity declined from 2010 to 2016 among toddlers receiving WIC benefits. Experts suggest this may be a result of policy changes in 2009 made to better align WIC food packages with current nutritional and clinical guidelines.

The bottom line is this fight, as always when it comes to food stamps, is far more about politics and the optics conservatives wish to portray about being tough for the sake of their base.  For them, it is always the canard that ‘lazy people’ are the recipients of this program.

Why not, instead, work to address one of the primary reasons for the need for some to be on food stamps?  The issue of stagnant wages, and the movement of low-wage jobs into the service sector, are to blame for a sizable segment of the population who then need food stamps.  The obvious result is that low-skilled workers simply need more help to afford the basics. This is particularly true for parents working in the service sector, where they have to put up with irregular schedules with few or no benefits.  And for many who receive food stamps, it is the only government program they participate in.

Under SNAP the average individual benefit is $126 per month. By comparison, the USDA estimates that the average Americans spend $262 per month on groceries to feed one person.  Making sure that the under-employed, children and the elderly are fed and nourished is something that aligns with my faith, and it troubles me to see and hear it used as a political weapon.

How far adrift we are in allowing this nation to target the poor and needy.  Instead of working to undermine the poorer people it would be a far better use of conservative’s time if they read some of the studies as those mentioned in this post.  They would then become aware that SNAP helps so many people avoid hunger and incentivizes the purchase of healthy food.  That nutritious diet then translates into lower healthcare costs for people who are on the program.

That is what I call good policy and fiscal accountability all rolled into one.

New Year, New Book

When I was a teenager I started what has now become a decades-long tradition on New Year’s Eve.

Back in Hancock, there would be the annual televised big-band sound of Guy Lombardo on CBS which was upbeat and brassy.  I still have fond memories of that sound and how it made me feel. (In later years I was pumped to broadcast a big-band show each evening on WDOR radio.)  The other event of note as the year closed was the ‘ball drop’ from New York on ABC.  But after those events my parents were tired and fell asleep.   So many a New Year (Central Time) was greeted with a book in my bedroom.  And without my knowing it a tradition started.

At this time of year I always start a new read, one I had placed aside, but really wanted to open.  When in my 20’s, and out for the big night, (first in Door County and then in later years in Madison) I would come home and read a chapter, or at least a few pages, of a new book before bed.  At the age of 57, that tradition continues.  Everything in the larger world may be chaos, and sound reasoning may be in short supply, but there is still a fun tradition that goes back to my teen years.  The New Year begins with a book.

I marvel at how authors can take one event and weave it into a masterful and well-researched book.   That is precisely what Catherine Merridale does in Lenin On The Train.  The book traces the 1917 rail journey from Zurich to Petrograd, where Lenin will ignite the Russian Revolution.  The echoes of that year have never stopped reverberating.

At the time Russian Czar Nicholas II’s had removed himself from power while Europe was mired in World War 1.  Lenin was in exile in Zurich, but when news reached him about the Czar’s move, he at once made the decision to return to Petrograd.  To get there, however, would require the crossing of  Germany, which meant accepting help from the deadliest of Russia’s adversaries.

As with any such book, it is not enough to have a grand story to tell, it also takes the gift of writing.  Merridale’s work (50 pages in) has met and surpassed what I always hope for from a historian and author.

Another year has started, a new book is underway, and a tradition born in a small rural home continues.

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Make Smiles In 2020

As the hours start to tick away in 2020 I wish to post a paragraph from my 2008 Christmas letter. May the message in this paragraph be your guide at some point along the way this year.

“Perhaps none other than the quiet act of getting a child to giggle and smile comes to mind as a way to close out the memory book for the year. A small girl named Marie lives on our block and walks with her parents past our place every day. Her parents are here from France for a UW-Madison project, and as such, the little girl only speaks French. While James speaks and teaches the French language, and so connected easily with the girl, my English language sounded like gibberish to her, and since she did not have many other such speakers around her on a daily basis, it made her unsure and timid when I was around. But being just a big kid, I knew there had to be a way to break through, and get her to smile. So after weeks of meeting a stony-faced child, I saw my opening one spring day. I picked up a dandelion that had sprouted on the lawn and developed to the point that it was white with feathery seeds. I brought it to her, and just about the time, she reached for it blew the many white seeds to the wind. She looked…..stared….and then broke into a major grin. So off I went to get another one……. There is a lesson in there about living life and finding new ways to see the world and be content with life.”

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Letter From Home “Education And Hope” 1/1/20

A few days prior to Christmas I was in a grocery store line to check out items needed for a gathering of friends to be held at our home.  The store is a place I stop a couple times a week and over the years I have come to know many of the employees through chats and laughter.  I did not, however, recognize the woman who was working my checkout line.

I have a habit of striking up conversations with folks I encounter in retail as I do not want them to feel under-appreciated.  Everyone is always in a hurry in our world, and it seems that we too often forget to acknowledge the people who are directly in front of us.  So I make it a point to talk to people who I interact with in stores and try to thank them by using their name on their tag.   But the new face in the grocery store line had a name I knew I was not going to be able to pronounce on the first try.  Or third try.

She had her hair covered and so I assumed she might be of the Islamic faith.  She told me her name was based from her religion.  Raised in Ghana she was new to Madison and wondered how she might adapt to winter.  With spring temps that we experienced in December, I alerted her to the mercurial nature of our weather.

But it was when she spoke about taking classes at our local technical school, and then transferring to UW-Madison, that I am sure my smile broadened.  Over and over I either talk with or read about immigrants who come to this country and seek out ways to improve their lives.  In this country, immigrants need to deal with new language skills, currency, culture, and in the case of this young woman, cold weather and certainly snow.   Added to that is the desire to strive for education and learning and personal growth.

There is so much to admire and be proud of when hearing such stories.  They confirm what I heard in taxi cab rides around Washington, DC two years ago when I would strike up conversations with immigrant drivers.

I was heartened that each of the men driving cabs was chatty and open about their life and experiences in this nation.   From Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan, and Sierra Leone each had strong feelings and all but one had language skills that made it easy to convey them.  The vast majority were of the Islamic faith and needless to say, were as proud to talk about it as anyone would be about their religion.  One soft-spoken man from Ethiopia seemed so humble and sincere about his life and outlook that upon leaving the cab I turned and offered the Islamic greeting of “peace be upon you”.

All the men had come to this country to make a better way in life.  Most had been here for about 15 years, a couple arrived only about 7 years ago.  Some had traveled with family and others came alone.  A man who came from India to get an education started his own restaurant.  An Ethiopian driver was surprised we knew of some foods from his native land such as Injera and Doro Wat.   We told him that in Madison we live close to a restaurant that makes these foods.  He smiled and told us that in his land Dor Wat is reserved for special days as it takes lots of ingredients and time to make.

Each of the drivers had made a bold choice of leaving the place of their birth to seek a better life.  It meant at times, as with the driver from India, leaving every member of his family behind and seeking something different.  It is a phenomenal undertaking to make such a journey.

And they work hard.  They are not slackers.  Most lived in Maryland where rental properties were more affordable.   One driver spoke of the rent increases over the past decade where his two-bedroom apartment now costs over $2,000 per month.   Other drivers told of their small children.  In one case a driver wanted his son to learn his native language at home while also speaking English at school.   James, as a professor of languages,  heartily agreed and offered some tips on how to make that process work.

Painting every person of the Islamic faith with one brush, as Donald Trump continues to do, was met with resentment and hurt.  “That is not American,” is how one man expressed it from his front seat.  And he is correct.

The desire to come to America and the thirst for education is a real and most uplifting combination.  We should applaud that and welcome it.

And that is exactly what I did upon hearing the woman at the grocery store. She expressed how many in Madison have been so welcoming and encouraging.   I told her many folks in the Midwest are big-hearted, want to see more diversity, and are not in alignment with what too often makes for dreadful headlines.

These types of moments and conversations are what truly makes me happy.  They can almost make me forget what I am doing.  As I got to the car I realized that I had not taken all my bagged groceries.  Walking back to get them I took stock of how important such conversations are in the chaotic times we find ourselves.

I am hoping for many more such simple conversations and interactions in the year ahead.

And so it goes.