WASHINGTON — The American holiday of Thanksgiving celebrates bountiful harvests with traditional family feasts. This year it comes just as the government assistance food stamps program is reducing benefits to millions of people. Volunteer organizations are increasing donations in the short term, but advocates warn that philanthropy alone cannot feed all who are in need.
At the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., volunteers are preparing to distribute 50 percent more food this month than last, in part to compensate for the recent $5-billion cut to the food stamp program.
While increased private donations may help poor families make it through Thanksgiving, Brian Banks, the organization’s policy director, said they cannot sustain a major increase in giving over the long term.
“The Capital Area Food Bank cannot reach enough donations to fulfill that cut. The food banks across the nation cannot reach enough donations to fill the cut. What we can do is make sure we are purchasing food, that we are taking donations and we are getting out to the community as fast as possible,” said Banks.
The food stamps cut is technically not a cut, but an end to a temporary stimulus increase passed during the economic recession.
While the U.S. economy has improved, unemployment remains high and the number of people receiving food stamps has risen to more than 47 million.
Still the U.S. Congress is considering cutting up to $40 billion more in nutrition aid over 10 years to reduce the government deficit.
Conservatives like Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, say more must be done to reduce fraud and abuse, and decrease the growing dependency on government handouts.
“It should be reformed to promote work so that able-bodied adults work, prepare for work, to at least look for work in exchange for receiving assistance. That’s fair to the taxpayers and it is also in the best interest of the recipients,” said Sheffield.
Advocates for the poor say most people on food stamps do work, but their wages are not enough to provide for their families. The large department store Walmart came under criticism recently for holding a Thanksgiving food donation drive for its own employees in need.
Banks says it is not surprising that many working families still need food stamps, which are provided under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program called SNAP.
“The majority of people who use the SNAP program, they work nine to five [o’clock] every single day. They’re working families. They’re the working poor. They need help and assistance. For some this is their last step to getting back on their feet,” said Banks.
This year as Americans gather for traditional Thanksgiving feasts, there may be less food on the table for millions of working poor.