The idea of poverty as a moral failing is not new; some version of that belief has remained a consistent part of organized society throughout history. The belief has an impact on who we help, how we help them — and how much suffering we add to those already struggling.
Poverty can in fact be a moral failing — not of individuals, but of a country that allows it. Especially when we’re talking about our country, one of the richest in the world. In the U.S., 13.5 percent of the population lives in poverty; Philadelphia has nearly double that rate.
The lion’s share of help comes from the government, but the work done by nonprofit and charitable organizations plays an increasingly critical role, especially when it comes to providing food.
How is it that in this wealthy country, 12 percent of the population doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from? This despite the fact that according to some estimates, 40 percent of the food grown and processed in the U.S. is wasted.
The amount of food waste and the number of people who struggle with hunger and food scarcity is a devilish paradox. In Philadelphia, with the highest poverty rate of any large U.S. city, it’s a paradox that hits close to home. Philabundance is one of many organizations working that distributes food to those who need it. Some of this is donated, and some is rescued; last year, 36 million pounds of perishable and nonperishable food from the Philadelphia port alone was distributed to this region and beyond.
According to a recent Inquirer report, Philabundance is expanding its reach to work with other institutions, such as hospitals, rec centers, and housing authorities to more efficiently get food to those who need it. They also are collaborating with groups that provide critical services to have a broader impact on those who need help.
Even though the economy is healthy, it’s an economy that offers too many low wages, inconsistent hours, and part-time work, so the need for food distribution remains critical.
Despite the staggering amount of food local organizations distribute, it’s a small percentage of the larger government supports, such as food stamps. Last year, the U.S. government spent $60 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, helping to feed 40 million people . While food stamps are effective in addressing poverty, they are also a frequent target of those who wish to punish the poor. For example, President Trump wants to slash food stamp spending and is again revisiting an idea surfaced last year. He’s proposing a “harvest box,” which would divert money from food stamps and instead supply people with boxes of nonperishable food. The idea of imposing government selections on families, in a dubious program that could end up being far more expensive, is another example of punishing the poor. Also on the table: imposing work requirements for food stamp recipients, even though nearly 50 percent of households receiving food stamps now are already working, shows an ignorance of the realities of the economy.