Welfare for the Wealthy

In a New York Times op-ed, Mark Bittman writes about the hyprocrisy of congressional representatives who use the Farm Bill to cut SNAP yet also recieves thousands in USDA farm subsidies and direct payments. The current version of the House farm bill proposes $20 billion in cuts to SNAP. Bittman suggests an alternative solution.

"In other words, without hurting conservation or poor people or foreign aid or progressive and traditional farming, you could achieve targeted savings simply by letting direct payments go away and refusing to boost the crop insurance scam."

Read more here.

USDA Expands SNAP Access at Farmers Markets

Today a $4 million plan was announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The plan will increase the use of federal food credits at farmers markets by allowing retailers to use wireless technology to connect sellers with the SNAP program. The Washington Post reports:

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.

Read more here.

"A Place at the Table": New Documentary Speaks Out on Solving Hunger in America

A Place at the Table premieres nationwide today. Photo courtesy Participant Media.

A new documentary from the producers of Food, Inc. premieres today, serving up the critical problem of rising hunger in the United States with a surprising thesis: we’ve already solved it.

… Forty years ago, that is. A Place at the Table, the newest documentary from Participant Media, reveals how political will in the 1960s and 70s ushered in an era of bipartisan-sponsored, government-funded programs that “nearly solved” the problem of hunger. 

Compare that with today, in which 50 million Americans rely on food assistance programs – and nearly one-in-two children will require food assistance in their lifetimes. The stark disparity between then and now begs the question: what happened?

Effective Sweat-Equity Rural Housing at Risk

A low-cost, highly successful rural housing self-help program is at risk from both sides of the aisle. A year ago, the Sojourners article Seven Ways Home described:

 the “mutual self-help” model, where families in rural America first qualify for a mortgage, then partner with seven to 11 other families who will all build their homes together.

The model first gained prominence in the Central Valley of California in the 1960s through the work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The Quaker group had listened to the housing dreams of migrant farm workers, many of whom lived in squalid conditions—30 families might share one rusty faucet. In response, AFSC offered the mutual self-help model: Families would work together to build their homes, with no one moving in until all the homes were completed. This built community as well as housing. The success of this model inspired the formation of Self-Help Enterprises, based in Visalia, California, which has helped more than 5,000 families build homes. The model has been so successful that today some self-help housing is sponsored by the USDA’s Rural Development program.

Now, the Daily Yonder reports that the program is under threat:

Self-Help Housing is unique among the panoply of federal programs. Under it, nonprofit housing developers provide training, technical assistance and close supervision to small teams of future owners who build their own homes. Each family invests roughly 1,200 hours, creating what's known as "sweat equity." Construction professionals do the rest. 502 direct loans finance the debt. 

The average annual income of participant families is $27,000. Most are minorities. Their repayment record is better than higher income families.

The key to this success story is the assistance provided to participant families by nonprofits. But instead of increasing funding — or at least holding funding level — the Obama administration’s FY 2013 budget reduces funding for these groups by two thirds.. 

The House version cuts this program by half.

This classic, highly effective pairing of citizen initiative with governement aid shouldn't be undermined by short-sighted cuts.

Elizabeth Palmberg is an associate editor of Sojourners magazine.