Lunch for Seniors or a Trip to Mars? Providing for the Least of These

SNAP Program1
A sure way to start a riot on Facebook is to post a political comment. Nobody agrees on anything political with the exception of the national debt: that it has reached critical mass and that we have to stop spending money we don’t have. Ideas vary widely as to where cuts should be made: the military budget, tax advantages, entitlement programs. Some of the cuts will come after the elections, but some of them are happening right now, and some of them are happening right here in Emory, Texas. The media pundits throw around lots of impersonal words when addressing this issue, but it’s harder to talk about when there’s a face attached to the cut.

David and I go to the Senior Center for lunch every day, and it’s provided me with material for a couple of previous posts (here and here). The Center is a Title III “Special Program for the Aging” that provides homebound and on-site meals for people over 60. The facilities are far from luxurious, and the Center operates on a shoestring, but it provides social interaction for people whose lives have shrunk to a small and lonely shell. It’s a place to gather and play games, tell stories, and feel like a part of something. I was talking with the manager the other day about some of the latest economy measures.

“How are you doing today,” I said when she came around to say hello after the lunch line died down.

“I’m okay. It’s just hectic. Things are about to change around here.”

“Really? What’s going on?” I said.

I worried that she might be leaving us. She’s been with the Center for 5 years, but most of her helpers only stay for a few months. It’s hard work with low pay unless you count the appreciation of the clients, and hugs and smiles won’t pay the electric bill.

“We’re changing providers again. This will be the 6th time since I’ve been here,” she said.

The meal is catered by a restaurant on a contract basis. Like the helpers, providers soon discover that the work is hard and the pay is low, and the program directors always want it for even less. As a result, we get a new chef every now and then.

“They’ve also cut the GoBus from every day to three days a week. The ones who ride the bus have to take frozen meals for the other two days so they’ll have food, but they don’t get the social interaction.”

That explained why I hadn’t seen “Jane” as often lately. Jane is a widow who is not in good health and lives alone. Her eyes have deteriorated to the point where she can’t read, and even watching TV is hard for her. She refuses to go into assisted living, because she doesn’t want to give up what little she has left. She goes to church if someone picks her up, and she comes to the Center. Otherwise she sits home alone. Now she’ll be doing that two more days a week.

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“I can’t even add the GoBus people to the delivery route,” the manager continued. “I already have 7 people on the waiting list.”

By federal regulations, the meals have to be delivered within a certain time frame, and the one driver is already stretched to meet his deadline. There’s no money to add another driver.

“And the food stamp office next door is closing,” she added. “Their clients are being sent to Canton.”

I don’t know much about the Food Stamp program, but some of our seniors are on it. I didn’t even know the name had been changed to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) until I read Christian Piatt’s blog this week. Some people think the program provides sumptuous cuisine for people who are too lazy to work. Piatt says the average benefit is $4 a day per person and challenges his readers to eat on that amount of money for a week.

Before I could process all she had told me, the phone rang and she went back to work. I’ve thought about that conversation a lot since then. This is what entitlement cuts look like up close and personal. What are some other programs that might be cut?

There was a lot of excitement earlier this month when NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory landed Curiosity on the surface of Mars. According to Wikipedia, the objectives of the mission are to investigate the habitability of the planet, to study its climate and geology, and to collect data for a possible manned mission to Mars. The cost of this project is estimated at $2.5 billion. That would buy a lot of gas for the GoBus.

There’s also been a lot of controversy about the lavish spending on some Department of Justice conferences. Particular attention has been focused on one instance where the DOJ paid $16 each for muffins. A reader commented on Piatt’s blog that he is on food stamps and, because of a quirk in the rules, he only got $16 a month. Several of our seniors also get $16 a month in SNAP benefits, and when our local office closes, they will have to make a 50 mile round trip to get them.

Everybody agrees that we can’t continue to spend money we don’t have, so what do we do? Do we continue to try to send men to Mars when we can’t pick up our seniors for lunch? Do we continue to spend more on muffins than we do on providing food for the hungry? Or do we heed Jesus’ words and provide for the least of these?

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Linda Brendle retired from the business world several years ago and has since inherited the love of writing from her son Christian Piatt. She has written a book called A LONG AND WINDING ROAD, RVing with Mom and Dad, and she is a frequent contributor to The Rains County Leader in Emory, Texas, The Burnside Writers Collective , Soul Sitters, and Don’t Lose Heart. She blogs about caregiving, faith, and family at Life After Caregiving and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • tarl_hutch

    This is the sad truth behind entitlement cuts, many who decide to push for these cuts never see the effects in real life. While i personally would rather see cuts to military spending and an end to tax loopholes and breaks for major corporations, than scientific and exploratory programs, we need to examine what is important. Are the needs and dignity of all humans important to us or are we satisfied letting our leftovers trickle down to them while they choose between electricity or medicine for the month? We need to take a hard look at our priorities and decide what we really care about, then actually act on it. As Jim Wallis says, a budget is a moral document and we should really look at what morals we are supporting.

    • Anonymous

      See my recent RLC piece on space exploration! I agree with your statement: “I personally would rather see cuts to military spending and an end to tax loopholes and breaks for major corporations, than scientific and exploratory programs…” While coming from a good place, this article does not present an actual trade-off–cuts to space exploration do not translate into automatic increases in spending for the poor.

  • Anonymous
  • http://www.facebook.com/cfogarty1964 Chris Fogarty

    I will never forget Jesse Jackson’s rants against fixing the Hubble telescope. If he had been victorious, humanity would have been deprived some of the most beautiful images of the cosmos.

    What do the poor have to do with our understanding of the cosmos? The problem with the church and the poor is the way they romanticize poverty to the point of virtue, and then in turn they exalt their role in helping the poor to that of the most supreme virtues. Something they share in common with their peers in government poverty programs.

    Yet almost 50 years since Johnson’s war on poverty commenced, and more 19 trillion in inflation adjusted dollars, poverty has not been eradicated. I suspect this has something to do with government’s involvement, human nature, and the belief that there is money to be made in the war on poverty.

    One need only look at the income of the leaders and government bureaucrats that administrate these programs, to see that there is money to be had. Jesse Jackson is hardly living the Mother Theresa life. In 2010 the average federal worker had an average wage of $83,679, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. By comparison, the average wage of the nation’s 101 million private-sector workers was $51,986.

    From a cursory examination, one cannot help but see how much science has contributed to the betterment of humanity in knowledge, understanding, and quality of life. In fact, a side by side comparison would demonstrate that the church has had the least positive impact on humanity. Arguably, government does not fair much better with its abuse of science.

    It disturbs me how these arguments impact scientific research and the advancement of human knowledge and understanding. Once again, it looks like the church is at war with science, however now instead of excommunicating Galileo, they want to de-fund his telescope. As comical as this may seem the result is the same science is under siege by the church.

    Clearly the war on poverty has failed, so why keep feeding the beast? Until I see the church and government poverty agencies and programs living more like Mother Theresa and less like a Washington lobbyist, I will remain skeptical of the real motivations and anecdotal outcomes.

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