Thursday, June 23, 2011

Privatizing and/or Arresting Charity

Senator Bernie Sanders, chair of a Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, held a hearing this week on senior hunger. One would think that in a country like the US, our senators would be deeply concerned about hungry senior citizens. One would be wrong. From The Nation/Notion:

Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for the Administration on Aging, began by assessing the problem. Of the millions of hungry senior citizens assisted by the federal government, 24 percent simply do not have enough money or food stamps to purchase enough food. Beyond poverty, millions of other seniors have trouble getting meals because they are either functionally impaired or live alone. Seniors in rural areas, far from grocery stores and perhaps family members, are particularly vulnerable. For around 60 percent of the seniors assisted by the government, the meals they are provided make up half or more of their daily food intake.


“From a moral perspective, it is clear to me that in this great nation, no one should go hungry, especially those that are old and frail and unable to take care of themselves,” Sanders said.

Thanks Senator. But there's more:

Mary Jane Koren, a geriatrician and vice-president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that seniors often suffer health problems and are put in nursing homes after falling down. Poor nutrition leads to decreased muscle strength, meaning a higher chance of falling—and weaker seniors are more likely to be gravely injured in such a fall. Koren noted that by 2020, the annual cost of medical care for seniors who fall is expected to reach $54.9 billion—many magnitudes more than the approximately $2 billion per year the federal government spends on nutrition assistance for senior citizens.

Senator Paul, however, explicitly rejected this logic. “It’s curious that only in Washington can you spend $2 billion and claim that you’re saving money,” he said. “The idea or notion that spending money in Washington somehow is saving money really flies past most of the taxpayers.” Instead, Paul touted the “nobility of private charity” as opposed to government-funded “transfer programs.” He suggested privatizing Meals on Wheels and other government assistance for hungry seniors.

So, poor nutrition for seniors can lead to falls and broken bones which mean increased medical costs. That makes sense to me, and I expect to most of us. It does not make sense to Senator Rand Paul, who believes we should let the seniors eat charity. A privatized Meals on Wheels program will be in it for a profit, which means they'll be charging for their service, which defeats the entire purpose.

Charities are already stretched to their limits and beyond by the demand created by this economy. Non-profits, churches, and other charities aren't getting the kind of donations they need to deal with the demands, because people don't have the money to donate because of the economy. It's a neat little circle that is easy to understand, unless you're living in some Dickensian fantasy land. Just don't ask him for a refill of your bowl of gruel.

On the topic of hunger, the group known as Food Not Bombs has been in the news lately, because members of their group have been arrested on several occasions for feeding homeless and hungry people at Lake Eola Park in Orlando, FL. The city has a homeless feeding area: a cage under a bridge, that they would prefer the folks of Food Not Bombs use as a location. Nothing says dignity like eating in a cage under a bridge. The city of Orlando would prefer not to afflict the comfortable residents with the sight of homeless and hungry folks eating in the sunlight.

Food Not Bombs has been engaging in peaceful food activism, by feeding vegan meals to the hungry, and handing out literature on the costs of militarism and war, for over 30 years.

Keith McHenry, one of the founders of Food Not Bombs has an essay at the Tikkun Daily website:

The Mayor of Orlando is telling the media that all is under control. Everyone in Orlando has food and Food Not Bombs can move to the feeding cage if we “really want to feed the homeless.” While many of those eating with us are not homeless, they make a mockery of their own arrest warrants which accuse our volunteers of sharing meals with over 24 people. Many of the people that come to Food Not Bombs have jobs but need a free meal so they have enough to pay for their housing. Second Harvest in Orlando reported that over 55,000 people required food through their central Florida program. They also reported that 20.7% of the pantries, 10.1% of the kitchens and 33.0% of the shelters responded that they turned away clients during the past year. Their website also shows that 49% of the Central Florida Second Harvest clients had to choose between paying for food and paying for their rent or mortgage. The Orlando Regional Realtor Association announced that housing sales for May 2011 were 14.99 percent below May 2010. Housing foreclosures are also on the increase. The people eating with Food Not Bombs eat with us because they need food. Many must choose between food or housing. Mayor Buddy Dyer and other officials must come to terms with the fact that we are in a crisis and hiding the problem of hunger is not a solution.

A recent CNN poll reported that nearly half of all Americans they questioned believed the country will collapse into an economic depression within the next twelve months. For many the depression is already here. Nearly 1 billion people go without food every day world wide even though there is enough to feed everyone. Over 25,000 people die each day because they do not have enough to eat. Many of those going hungry live right here in cities like Orlando. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that over 15 percent of Americans were going with out food each month in 2009. That number has increased. Federal authorities also report that 387,849 new recipients were added to the food stamps program in March 2011. Over 44 million Americans rely on food stamps to feed their families and the number continues to grow. Efforts to end hunger and poverty should be supported by the City of Orlando. These staggering and painful statistics reflect the failure of priorities. No one should go hungry in the world’s wealthiest country. Arresting volunteers for doing all they can to encourage solutions to this crisis is criminal.

The whole essay is well worth reading.

The irony, of course, is inescapable. At one end of the spectrum, we have Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggesting that we should let seniors eat charity, and at the other end, we have folks working for a charity getting arrested for feeding the hungry.

cross-posted at MainSt/

1 comment:

DissedBelief said...

This is beyond appalling. What are we doing and where have our priorities gone? Into the pockets of the few who don't care it appears. I was so overcome reading this. I thought of the hungary masses I saw when living in Africa, and how now, in 2011, things are worse not just in Africa but right here in the USA? We have turned into a disgraceful species, intent and content with murder. Perhaps many environmentalists are correct. We should go the way of the Dinosaur. Under these circumstances, we deserve nothing less.