DES MOINES | Overlooked in the stories of national park closures and war memorial barricades are the millions of hungry people, here and abroad, who have been hurt most by the federal government shutdown.
So said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World and a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, who blasted congressional gridlock and pushed for more support for government food programs during a news conference at the World Food Prize symposium in downtown Des Moines.
Beckmann spoke as news of a compromise deal to end the government shutdown was breaking Wednesday afternoon. Bread for the World is a Christian organization that undertakes and lobbies in favor of efforts to end world hunger.
“The impact on hungry people is, mainly, because of the impact on jobs,” Beckmann said.
Issues of whether federal programs will continue, get reduced or be eliminated create a “policy of uncertainty” for people who use those services. Policy certainty, he said, is worth about a 1 percentage point difference in the unemployment rate.
“So in September, the unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, if it hadn’t been for the policy uncertainty of the last two years, it probably would have been 6.3 percent,” he said, citing economic studies by Stanford University, one by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and another by Zogby Analytics.
“A 1 percent reduction in the unemployment rate is more important to hungry people than any social program, and right now, we have more severe policy uncertainty than at any time in my lifetime,” he said.
Beckmann then related a story about a 30-year-old woman he met in Texas last weekend who worked for minimum wage at the counter for a rental car company. The woman’s child had a toothache, but the CHIP subsidized dental insurance program was out of money because of the shutdown.
“So she said, ‘I got her all filled up with Tylenol, but it still hurts so she won’t eat. She’s so skinny, but she won’t eat,’” Beckmann said. “It just gave me a perspective on services for low-income people right now.”
He said if the deal proposed Wednesday goes through, the next areas of concern are if Congress will let the sequester cuts continue to roll out and what happens to food programs that are part of the farm bill, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.
“The Senate passed $4 billion in cuts in SNAP, the House passed $40 billion in cuts in SNAP, but they agreed on $10 billion in cuts in SNAP,” Beckmann said. “That’s equivalent to two years of all the food charity in the country. So in this country nearly every church and mosque and synagogue is gathering up food and distributing it … all that together is $5 billion a year. So if they went $10 billion, that’s equivalent to getting rid of two years of food charity.”