In 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson persuaded Congress to pass the Anti-Poverty Act. Johnson stated that it was the first step in his war on poverty. The overall strategy was to help people to "climb out of poverty and stay out". The act provided $947.5 million dollars for job training centres, loans to poor students and low-income farmers, and basic education programs.
The Johnson administration pushed through an unprecedented amount of antipoverty legislation. The Economic Opportunity Act (1964) provided the basis for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the Job Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Upward Bound, Head Start, Legal Services, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Community Action Program (CAP), the college Work-Study program, Neighborhood Development Centers, small business loan programs, rural programs, migrant worker programs, remedial education projects, local health care centers, and others. The antipoverty effort, however, did not stop there. It encompassed a range of Great Society legislation far broader than the Economic Opportunity Act alone. Other important measures with antipoverty functions included an $11 billion tax cut (Revenue Act of 1964), the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Food Stamp Act (1964), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the Higher Education Act (1965), the Social Security amendments creating Medicare/Medicaid (1965), the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (1965), the Voting Rights Act (1965), the Model Cities Act (1966), the Fair Housing Act (1968), several job-training programs, and various Urban Renewal-related projects.
By the year 1980, the number of hungry individuals was reduced to less than 1 million in the United States. Ronald Reagan came along, passed unprecedented tax cuts, and needed to find "fat" to trim around the federal budget. Money started to be taken away from the programs that were serving the poorest of the poor. The idea was that charities and church organizations could more effectively take care of people than the government could, and by doing that, our economy would be able to recover better, and government could get smaller.
The burden to feed people began to be taken off of government programs, such as food stamps, WIC, and school breakfast and lunch programs, and began to be put on local charities.
Let me stop here and say that I understand both sides. I get that it's more ideal that the private and nonprofit sector fund programs to help people. I understand that population grows, we have to protect our country and our national economy must be taken into consideration.
But 1 in 6 go hungry in our community. 1 in 6. 1 in 2 kids will at some point in their lives right here in Lawrence, Kansas will receive food assistance. 1 in 2. In our country, the number that was less than a million in 1979 has grown today to over 50 million people. In just 33 short years, the number of hungry people has increased by more than a million people per year.
We don't have a food problem It isn't because there isn't enough food. It isn't because we aren't doing a good job. It isn't because there are not millions of community dollars across this community leveraged to take care of these issues. It's because we're going into a gun fight with a butter knife.
Symptoms Most non profits must treat symptoms, rather than the root of the issues. There's nothing else you can do when you're so busy trying to stay open with just keeping basic necessities on the shelves...the programs that aim to move people to "climb out of poverty and stay out" can't be done, because there's such a large number of people in need. It was never meant to be that way.
The solution is not an isolation of responsibility to one group or another, but a collaborative partnership between government, private and non profit sectors.
Regardless of which side of the political fence you find yourself on, and what responsibility you think the varying players have in this story...ask yourself two questions.
- Is what we are doing working? I think most could agree that it is not.
- Are we okay with this many people (and growing) going hungry in our community? No one is. Period.
"...what you're doing isn't just food."
A senior citizen client of ours wrote that in an email to me a few weeks ago. I couldn't agree more.
Tomorrow, we're going to look at what it is that we are doing to combat this issue. We aren't just distributing food. We aren't just focusing on volume and pounds. We want people to be reminded of the hope that we had in the 1960's that they can "climb out of poverty and stay out," with a little help from their friends. Stay tuned. Your part in the story awaits.