Poverty Isn't A Myth: Food Insecurity & SNAP Rule Changes Bite of Immorality


As-Salaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu

May the Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah (God) Be Upon You

With the American celebrated Thanksgiving having passed, fully aware that every day is a day in which to be grateful and to give thanks to The Creator for His Mercy, Blessings and Protection for many, many things-- many will next leap into a yuletide season that while traditionally positive is imbued with some of the same myths or misunderstandings as Thanksgiving that have a basis in American folklore or fabrication, to put it mildly.

Both designated holidays (or for some a day or two off from work) are more associated with family and food than most of us will agree. Some might want to insist that football and gifts be included in what these days mean. Yet, two myths are also associated with these two big days that are within 30 days of one another:1) the feast between Indians and Pilgrims that was instead a massacre of the Wampanoag Indians by the Pilgrims, perhaps the first of what became many more and 2) the existence of Santa who traveled from the North Pole via reindeer to the roofs and then down the chimneys of good children's homes leaving gifts, but whose actual origins are traced back to St. Nicholas of Turkey, a generous kind man who allegedly gave away his wealth helping the sick and the poor. Many repeat and instill stories like the former and not the truth of the latter, rather this myth to their children albeit all adults truly know who Santa really is. Ideas and the celebrity of "Santa" is not lost in 2019 as some Santas are really making it big in malls and as "influencers" in social media. These are adults cashing in and promulgating the Santa myth for a salary. The truth about St. Nicholas caring for the poor and the sick is not as marketable, while there is some attention to the needs of those who cannot participate in the gift-giving due to their circumstances during this time of the year.

In 2017, the New York Times laid bare the myths about Thanksgiving as more and more people are coming to recognize what is now known as Indigenous People's Day. In an article titled "Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Was Wrong" myths were reconciled with the facts of what really occurred between the Pilgrim settlers and the indigenous Pequot Indians. Of course, everything in the New York Times is not true, generally, but the truth finally prevailed about that fateful day. Some have learned and are coming to an unfortunate awareness about the perpetuation of fables and untruths often told and promoted in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Yet, Thanksgiving and Xmas come and bring purpose for some, that being taking care of those with less than what a rich and wealthy nation can provide for if its values and morals support such. So much of what the nation does is as a result of the protest of people arguing for their rights and who pay taxes for the maintenance of the land and its people (some still without adequate representation of their issues). We work not just to feed ourselves, but to sustain a roof over our heads and food in the fridge for the "kids." How many of us grew up having experienced hunger at some point in our lives we do not discuss openly. Families do what they can to hold things together. When we have little else, for the Grace of God, we have each other.

History has recorded that it was one of the so-called Founders of America, Alexander Hamilton, who once remarked upon sitting down to a lackluster, turkey-less Thanksgiving feast at the turn of the 19th century, “No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Not following his words nor the tradition so much as providing food for families in need, last week the South East Queens Muslim Collective was pleased to have the opportunity to assist the Office of Councilman I. Daneek Miller with the distribution of halal turkeys to Southeast Queens residents. Turkey, admittedly is an American tradition on the Thanksgiving table. "Halal" is a word that conveys what is permitted for those adhering to an Islamic way of life. SEQMC members reached out to some Imams (Islamic religious leaders) in Southeast Queens and Corona while Councilman Miller reached out to other Muslim organizations and Mosques to ask if there were any Muslim families, members or neighbors in the community desiring a halal turkey. More than 350 turkeys, in total were distributed out of Shiloh Baptist Church, located in Jamaica. SEQMC felt grateful to have been a part of helping families, many of which are experiencing food insecurity within Southeast Queens, and beyond. Many families-- more than we know or might imagine are experiencing a lack of adequate food because talking about food insecurity is as quiet an issue as is talking about lack of finances to meet other basic needs. Eating is a basic need for everyone. Lack of a nutritious diet is particularly known to wreak havoc on the development of growing children and on outcomes that can affect them later in life as adults.

Councilman I. Daneek Miller, CD 27 with members of SEQMC at Halal Turkey distribution, November 25, 2019 Shiloh Baptist Church, Jamaica, NY. Left to Right: Br. Al-Kanu, SQPA; Sr. Najeeullah, Councilman Miller, SEQMC President, Dr. Musa, SEQMC Secretary, Br. Tariq

Reflecting on 2017, the first year of the Trump administration, many were or remain unaware of numerous policy changes being put in place by many unqualified appointed individuals who have since left the Trump administration that would have ripple effects years later. As America wrangles from one scandal and investigation to the next regarding the behavior of Trump and his cabinet/associates, we are being caught off guard by changing regulations that are detrimental to significant segments of society. The people being predominantly impacted are people of color, immigrants, and people whose incomes are lagging at a time in which America is being touted as having the best economy ever! Federal departments, funded by US taxpayers, are upending programs that were created to help those with less or facing difficult times due to circumstances that vary due to changing industries, lack education and training, health and housing concerns as communities are changing as well. Among these agencies that have, in the past, served to protect Americans like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) numerous regulations have been changed to benefit corporations and a very small, but growing cadre of wealthy citizens who support federalist policies (many of which hail from the days of the founders who established an America in which people with property and, as such power prevailed. Let's remember that slavery prevailed then, too. Some of these regulatory policies have been brashly promoted by the Trump administration and are taking effect that enough attention has not been paid to yet, while others are on hold by order of the Court. They remain a threat to people experiencing poverty, housing shortages, the inability to work steadily and who are dependent upon the support of government programs to manage the basic necessities of life. The Trump administration is stacking the federal courts with some unqualified and very conservative people whose tenures are for the rest of their lifetimes. Long after Trump is gone from office the nation will be reeling from some disdainful if not immoral policies from his days as President.

There is growing concern about the manner in which democracy is unraveling in this nation that was neither discovered by Columbus, another myth, and from the outside and inside appears to be failing to hold true to the foundation of the nation its Founders delineated as "rule of law" and in the US Constitution. For a role that is the highest level of service to the people of the United States, by and for the people, the current administration is not led by an individual whose word or actions have demonstrated a concern for people or for the truth.

When the current administration was separating children from their families on the Southern border of the US children in US custody were going without clean clothing, bathing, proper facilities in which to use the toilet and food. We aren't fully aware, because the news has turned away from the horror of these stories, that families are still being separated under new rules that limit adults from crossing the border-- but children can. When things get really bad in the camps thousands in Mexico are waiting in, parents are reluctantly taking their children to the border and telling them to cross alone. What parents can watch their children go hungry? Yet, a conversation about poverty is yet to be seriously undertaken in this country. There is plenty of talk about billionaires and who can best Trump in 2020, but no one speaking about poverty and helping the poor with the exception of Bernie Sanders addressing it with his constituents in Vermont. There are references made to people who aren't doing so well and how this policy or the other will help this group or the other. Poverty, directly stated, is a word rarely spoken in the halls of government or on the campaign trail while there is a lot of bragging about how high the stock market is or how good the economy is. Obviously, things are not going so great for everyone. In June of this year, the Poor People's Campaign, led by Rev. Dr. William Barber, III hosted a Poor People's Moral Action Congress forum on poverty inviting all of the 2020 Presidential candidates to speak. They did and here we are six months later while many running for the office are currently Senators with huge stages to argue about Americans losing access to food. Two Senators not running for President have publicly commented, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown slammed the rule as “mean spirited” and “despicable” and Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy described the rule “the definition of cruelty.”

Food insecurity is a big issue within many households with little to eat or poor quality food as erratic employment, underemployment and unemployment in what the Trump administration describes as the "best economy ever". The impact of high rents and the cost of living in New York City and many urban cities, in general, compel everyone to stretch what money is available to meet additional expenses for transportation, child care, work equipment, etc. Many households, as a result of increasing burdens upon their net (take home) income, have become eligible for food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka SNAP, a federal program that has gone by many names over many decades i.e., EBT (swipe cards), Food Stamps (years ago there were actual money looking books of tear out coupons that spent like real money to pay for food) as earlier iterations of national food assistance programs. Some of the "boomers" among readers can perhaps remember block cheese, powdered eggs, milk powder and something that could be referred to as spam or canned meat that many families picked up and carried home to feed their families decades ago in the 1970s and 80s. Dick Gregory, renowned health adviser, fitness enthusiast, civil and human rights activist, former presidential candidate (1968) and comedian rattled many when he stated that people should not eat the "free government cheese because it was contaminated." You can believe that a lot of African Americans stopped eating it! About a year ago in February 2018 Trump suggested that a "food box" of government selected food items would suffice for food assistance. In March 2019, the United States Agriculture Department (USDA) budget proposal included the introduction of the "harvest box" with additional work requirements to obtain essential food assistance. Who would eat food directly provided by the Trump administration? His so-called "base" supporters perhaps and no one else.

Millions of people in the United States, many of them single headed households with children, elderly households, and single under employed or unemployed individuals, veterans and disabled individuals depend upon SNAP because they are food insecure. A third of SNAP recipients who are not elderly are women of color. One of the most widely used federal programs, SNAP helped over 40 million Americans afford groceries in a typical month in 2017. Today, we were informed of the first of three changes to SNAP regulations and the ability to participate in the program about which the comment phase of the process just closed this past Monday, December 2, 2019. There were more than 141,000 protest letters submitted, the majority of them negative. Together, the changes would reduce enrollment by more than 3 million people. More than 36 million Americans in 18 million households currently receive monthly SNAP benefits on debit cards that can be used for food in grocery stores. One of these changed rules takes away state flexibility to waive a three-month time limit for SNAP recipients who aren’t elderly and who don’t have children or disabilities. The requirement allows able-bodied adults only three months of benefits in a three-year period unless they prove to the state government they work at least 20 hours per week. In areas with high unemployment continuing to receive food aid beyond the three-month time limit set for the program means people will go hungry. The US Department of Agriculture, which oversees the program, estimates that about 700,000 (or closer to 1 million) fewer Americans will receive benefits in 2021 under the regulation. The department has also proposed a rule that would close what it calls a loophole that allows people with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level — about $50,000 for a family of four — to receive food stamps.

The Trump administration states it is "cutting food stamps to restore the dignity of work." Placing people in a position where if work does not or cannot exist after a three-month search forces people into a position of being overwhelmed by hardship. Where is the dignity in that? Taking food assistance away from people doesn’t help them work more. In total, it is expected that by next April, more than 3 million people will lose SNAP benefits. One of the key strengths of the SNAP program had been its being there in times of changing economic conditions. National conditions versus local conditions wherein States could provide waivers will leave hundreds of thousands of people without food and worsen their condition while some people may be celebrating and eating cake because of their gains in the stock market. This weakens America and denies dignity when one is deemed unqualified to support with food, a very, very basic need. Is this what reasonable hard-working American taxpayers who actually fund the SNAP program are in agreement with? Among those making these decisions are individuals about whose taxes are not public while they sit in public office denying people facing difficulties bare basic needs. Is it because they pay little or no taxes and are hiding that information?

Two other changes about which the comment period has expired and are yet to be announced but from the history of the Trump administration will be publicized with some fanfare on a day when the impeachment hearings get particularly sticky are: 1) a change in the types of government benefits that automatically qualify families for SNAP; and 2) changes in the approach to calculating standard utility allowances. States have typically calculated these amounts to establish eligibility for SNAP and they have varied as a result of state oversight for its residents and circumstances within those borders. The Trump federal government wants to "standardize" the utility allowance referred to as Heating Cooling Standard Utility Allowance (HCSUA) provided to individuals qualified to receive SNAP. If one lives where utility cost are high, meeting the eligibility for SNAP will be impaired and benefits reduced. If utility cost are lower, there will be an increase in the amount of SNAP benefits provided. Why should that matter since private corporations have control over the costs of utilities and no one has control over the weather? Does the government consider that one can be both freezing cold and hungry and that would be any more acceptable? Is this what Americans want for children or any child anywhere to experience? Generally, Americans with a gross monthly income within 130 percent of the poverty line are eligible for SNAP benefits. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), nearly 70 percent of SNAP recipients are families with children. The CBPP also estimates that about a third of all SNAP recipients are households with seniors or people with disabilities. Seniors often live on a fixed income, and the average annual retirement income is lower than the national average of $25,829. Should senior citizens who have worked most of their lives and paid taxes that supported communities in which they live now eat less and live in cold homes because of how modified SNAP rules will impact them directly?

One SNAP rule was announced today. It may be challenged in court whereby some states may sue. Were all three rules to go into effect, many in our South East Queens neighborhoods will either see reductions in their amount of benefits or lose SNAP benefits altogether. To whose elective office does this oversight relate? Congressman Meeks, we need another emergency meeting as soon as possible! It is anticipated that this change in the rule will threaten the access of at least 107,000 New Yorkers, according to Hunger Solutions New York, at a time in which food banks and soup kitchens are already struggling to meet growing demands. It has also been observed that food pantries and soup kitchens in New York City have noted increased visits from families with children, immigrant families and first-time visitors this year, according to a new report from Food Bank for New York City. This increase may be attributed to the threat of the public charge rule that is yet to be implemented until it is resolved by the Court.

Already, many people, primarily those who immigrated to the US, have been chilled by the threats currently on hold by the court concerning the "public charge" issue that Trump orchestrated to render individuals already in the country with limitations to obtaining public subsidies. These are individuals who are eligible for housing, health and food assistance. Yet, the Trump administration has threatened a risk of not being able to sustain one's immigration status or apply and obtain eventual US citizenship if these basic needs resources are used. As a result, thousands of NYC residents who exited the SNAP program during the summer and early fall are not obtaining medical care and it's not clear what is happening in the instances of subsidized housing.

These are strangely un-American, callous, immoral and potently discriminatory initiatives possibly to drive people into potentially illegal behavior (as is being exhibited by the very offices making these disastrous changes in policies that otherwise have served to feed people and not provoke people into states of poor health) in order to survive. Wouldn't such feed into the explosion of for-profit prisons opening around the country and the rise of ICE detainment and deportation initiatives heralded by the Trump administration in his 2020 re-election campaign "Promises Kept" quest? Trump is not the brain-child of such tragic policies that the GOP and other right-wing groups have been promoting for years. Trump is the effective vitriolic voice box and supremacy image though without a doubt.

Even all the political campaigning and talk about medical care and health care costs means little if families are going hungry. And, of all times of the year, Trump threatens to demean and halt people's access to food at the start of the holiday season? Does Trump lack a spirit or is he just downright callous and heartless? For all of the hamburgers, fries and diet cokes Trump drinks and promotes regularly, he cares little about quality food and nutrition and cares less for the well-being and health of the people he is in office to represent. Clearly, he only represents himself and other pitiable Scrooges that exist in the world.

Muslims are not supposed to go to sleep at night knowing that their neighbor is hungry.

It is believed that many people, regardless of faith share these same sentiments. It is about caring for your neighbor who, if undergoing hardship you would assist if possible. If you know someone in need of food, direction to a food pantry or services to assist their contacting social service agencies because of a lack of food, heat or other matters that are capable of being resolved with intervention, please contact SEQMC. We will strive, by the Grace of Allah (God) to point in the right direction for some assistance. Please call 718-663-4644 or reach us via email at seqmc1@gmail.com or through the Contact Us page on this website.

Please join us to follow updates about current issues and events concerning housing, education, social justice and economic empowerment on the SEQMC Facebook page.

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