September 13, 2013

The Attack at Home

A new bill threatens the food security of millions Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the attention of the country has been riveted on President Obama’s proposals to launch missile strikes in Syria, hidden in the shadows, the House of Representatives has been busily preparing an attack of its own. This attack will not be directed against a foreign government accused of massacring innocent civilians with chemical weapons. Rather, it will be launched right here at home, and its targets are our fellow citizens, whose crime is simply being poor and dependent on federal assistance in order to eat and feed their families.

In the coming week, House Republicans will introduce a bill that delivers a major blow to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. For 48 million Americans, 17 million of them children, food stamps serve as a fragile lifeline to food. SNAP benefits are far from adequate, since a family of four might receive at most about $668 in assistance per month, while many receive less. Recipients often run out of funds before the end of the month, and they usually have to restrict their purchases to processed foods—cheap and high in calories but lacking the vital nutrients provided by more costly fruits and vegetables.

Despite these shortcomings, SNAP still serves as a critical safety net that protects the vulnerable from an even deeper plunge into the pit of food insecurity, a situation in which they might have to skip meals, reduce their nutritional intake, or go for days without eating. The program has been found to be particularly effective in improving the health and learning abilities of children, who find it hard to concentrate at school with empty bellies. From an economic standpoint, food stamps have proven to be an asset rather than a liability. A study by the Department of Agriculture found that each $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in gross domestic product (GDP). An independent study says that "expanding food stamps is the most effective way to prime the economy's pump."

The people who depend on SNAP are by no means exploiters of the country's largesse: almost 90 percent live in either poverty or extreme poverty. The program thus provides a helping hand to those who, without these benefits, would have no way to feed their families. However, this hand may soon be withdrawn. This coming week, the Republican majority in the House will introduce a bill that slashes spending on SNAP by $40 billion over the next ten years. To get an idea of what this means, consider that in June the Senate approved a bill to reduce spending on SNAP by $4 billion over the next decade. Earlier this year the House had debated a bill that would have cut SNAP spending by $20.5 billion over the next decade—a figure over five times that proposed in the Senate. After prolonged debate, in July House conservatives decided to put off a new proposal until the end of the summer.

Now they have drafted a bill, and it’s one that would double the cuts to SNAP from $20.5 billion to $40 billion. The bill also lays down more stringent requirements for obtaining food stamps and more flexible conditions for states to deny nutritional assistance to those who apply. This double whammy is bound to hit millions of struggling people with the force of a shock-and-awe bombing campaign. 

What consequences will this draconian measure bring about, should it prevail? The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities offers a detailed analysis of the likely impacts of the cuts, the main features of which I’ll summarize:

It would deny SNAP to between 4 and 6 million low-income people, as well as many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages. These would include 2 to 4 million poor, unemployed, childless adults who live in areas of high unemployment, and 1.8 million people who have gross incomes or assets modestly above the federal SNAP limits, but disposable income below the poverty line. Two hundred and ten thousand children in these families would also lose free school meals. The bill authorizes states to cut off an entire family’s food assistance benefits, including their children’s—and for an unlimited time—if the parents don't find a job or job training slot. However, the bill apparently provides no measures to create jobs, no work or workfare programs, and no additional funds for work or training slots.

While the bill’s proponents insist that recipients of SNAP must get off their butts and find a job, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that this “rhetoric about the importance of work also overlooks the fact that most SNAP recipients who can work do so. More than 80 percent of SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult worked in the year before or after receiving SNAP.”

Families do not turn to the government for assistance in meeting their basic food needs because they are lazy and want handouts from officials with bleeding hearts. The reason is simply that they can't afford adequate food, and they can't afford it because jobs are scarce, incomes stagnant or declining in real purchasing power, and too many jobs pay wages that are minimal or as close to the minimum as employers can get away with. For this reason poverty in this country remains at unconscionable levels, with the gap between the super-rich and everyone else growing wider

When President Obama turned to Congress to marshal support for rocket attacks against the Assad regime in Syria, conservatives in the House voiced doubts and objections, maintaining that such an attack would not advance our interests. Few objected that we don’t have the funds to support another war. If they had felt we had some stake in the conflict, they would have certainly found the funds. When it’s a matter of war, somehow funds always manage to materialize.

When, however, it comes to helping the poor and needy, they suddenly find themselves crashing into a wall of fiscal constraints that force them to allow a substantial segment of our population to slip down the slope of poverty. Instead of bringing forth hearts of compassion to renew—even expand—the programs that provide for people’s needs, our elected officials harden their hearts and close their hands.

It is often said that a budget is a moral document. How our representatives spend our taxes reveals in stark black and white our nation's values and concerns. And how we respond to their decisions reveals, too, our own souls, our own deepest values. These responses show where we stand in relation to our neighbors and to those across the country who share our humanity, who look to us for a ladder up from the pains of poverty, illness, and hunger. When a proposed bill puts lives at risk and endangers the future of millions—including millions of children—it must be flatly rejected on the most compelling moral grounds.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Theravada Buddhist monk originally from New York City. He is the former editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and has many important publications to his credit, the most recent being his full translation of the Anguttara Nikaya (Wisdom Publications, 2012). In 2008, he founded Buddhist Global Relief, a nonprofit sponsoring hunger relief and education in countries suffering from chronic poverty and malnutrition.

Images courtesy of Flickr/NCReedplayer, Flickr/Conway L.

Further Reading

A Moral Politics: Nourishing change in US food policy

Into the Fire: Food in the Age of Climate Change

Preserving the Fecundity of the Earth: Climate change poses the single greatest threat to the world’s food supply. But we can stop it.

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valerie2's picture

Good to know. I won't hesitate to share this (or anything else that is a blog post) via social media now that i know that access isn't limited to members. Thanks so much Joanna!

jackelope65's picture

I am often aghast at how wealthier people justify cutting aid to the poor based upon what they can buy with a lot more money, as if they never waste a cent. Also, often the poor are less educated and come from poor families where Mac and Cheese were the fare. When I volunteered for the military during the Vietnam era and being paid below the going poverty standard then, returning to go to college with three children, then medical school, Mac and Cheese, Raman soup, stews, rice and beans, and pastas were at the centre of most meals. My oldest boy suffered a severe brain injury, and I ruptured a brain aneurysm requiring a year to recover. We did have help from friends and family but medicaid, welfare and food stamps were necessary. My family and I worked our way through that and I practiced medicine for over 30 years. However, I am back in the same boat now, 2 cancers and 18 surgeries later. I worked hard, did not choose my medical and surgical issues, but like others who do try very hard, I was forced back into being poor. I would ask those who are fortunate, not to judge as you really do not know the who and why of people who are poor and needing help. Lets stop paying "robber barons' to dig for oil and pollute the world and give to the really needy without judgement.

buddhaddy's picture

I have a very similar story. Very poor when a child, no welfare, often got food from private religious groups. I worked below minimum wage in healthcare after Vietnam, had three kids, (from my own choices), low income, medical issues, (not as bad as a brain aneurysm), had to work full time while putting myself through college, and help my mother keep food on her table, and see her through a horrible cancer death. if we somehow could ensure that each person who can work, did work for their assistance, then people like you, who really needed a hand up, could get that assistance, as there would be plenty to give from. But it isn't working that way. As the chronic un-employment time grows and people reach the end of the time allowed, they are flooding into the disability system. Prison inmates are getting illicit payments. I see healthy functional people doing nothing. And yes, I do actually see them, because I'm out there in the community every day. But instead of blaming the robber barons, let's just limit the congressional terms, and find a way to keep those robber barons and their lobbyists away from our politicians. Just giving more money that corrupt system is just keeping it from those who truly need it.

zumacraig's picture

This comment is a breath of fresh air. Thank you for posting. The right wing BS on this site is nauseating to say the least.

I've not had any medical issues, but I've played by the rules taught to me by my parents. Work your way through school, take student loans, save if you can, assume you'll get much less like the job you get. All of it is a myth. And I even started at a much higher place than the majority. I had a fairly solid home life etc. Point is, hard work does not equal success and any undergraduate sociology book will explain that poverty has absolutely nothing to do with individual responsibility. It's systemic and the system is capitalism.

My opinion, as a Faithful Buddhist, is that there is no excuse for poverty in our world. If we take no-self and dependent origination seriously, we would be stopping at nothing to uncover, dismantle the systems that perpetuate such suffering. And then create an evolving system where the main focus is on healthy food, comfortable shelter and medical care for all human beings rather than consumption, profit and commodification.

planckbrandt's picture

Agreed. No excuse for poverty. And, when we fix the money systems and the laws about monopoly of land and the commons, we will see poverty disappear. It will be up to Dharma practitioners to make this happen.

buddhaddy's picture

If you took all of the money from everyone, and spread it out equally to each person, (unless you made "the pursuit of happiness" illegal, in 10 years, those who built their fortunes before will just have the same amount of money again. Those who didn't work to own land, think no one should be allowed to own it, i suppose. Who should own it?

mariaL99's picture

Thank you so much for addressing this ,Bhikkhu.
I do not believe that anyone who thinks that people on food stamps " do not really need them, or abuse them," has ever in their life been on the street or hungry.
It is amazing to me that our society is so ill that there is any questioning or doubt whatsoever , about the need to immediately and without any question, help those who are in need [ as opposed to our current trend of escalating withholding of the help].. Period.

buddhaddy's picture

I have been both of those, on the street, and hungry. I was there, not because of the broken family I came from, but because of ignorance and very bad choices, which I finally started to remove. when i finally stopped blaming my parents and society for my situation, and started taking responsibility for my own choices, things miraculously began to improve. I have family members who got food stamps from the time they were very young. And today, some still are. they always seemed ill, or otherwise unable to work. amazingly, when Clinton and the republicans put a limit on those things, my family members became suddenly healthier, and were able to go to school and eventually to work. Now, guess what? they are back on food stamps, and have a plethora of issues that prevent getting any kind of work. all I'm saying is to look around you, and actually see what people are doing. Some on food stamps only use them to get through a bad time, and then work to improve their situation. Many more do not. I don't think they are "bad" people. Just that it's human nature for many to take what's offered, and live with it.

William Stanhope's picture

How a society treats its most vulnerable members is a good indication of its own health. In this respect, our society appears to be ailing. Programs to help those in need exist because unfortunately there are many who need some assistance to overcome the effects of a capitalist system based on fierce individualism instead of one based on a more humane and compassionate model. I am speaking of families who can not find adequate work. I am talking of the aged who can not make it through the month on their restricted incomes. Once again, because of misinformation and spin many have been manipulated to the point of not seeing clearly. Many have turned their anger against those in need rather than towards those who shape policy, using a few examples of abuse as if that were the general rule. This is an age old tool used by power structures to maintain whatever advantage they have. I do not diminish the importance of acting individually to reduce suffering but I also feel that awake people must act in concert to change the tide of selfishness and indifference so prevalent in a corporate world beholden mainly to shareholders.

planckbrandt's picture

Our society has been ailing for quite a long time. The poor from all over the world sustained our lifestyle for so many decades after WWII. But, it is good now that more and more of the middle class and formerly middle class are waking up to this. That may mean change really is possible as the center shifts.

youngc23's picture

I don't live in the U.S. anymore, but it's disheartening and disappointing, to say the least, to see what is happening with the food stamp program. Certainly, just cutting and cutting the subsidy by representatives, who have probably never been hungry in their lives, is not the answer. One common sense approach would be to restrict food stamps to purchasing only lower cost, nutritious foods (I live in Mexico where eating beans and corn tortillas keeps people reasonably healthy--I eat them too), while the means for getting to these consumables is improved. Also, people on food stamps should be educated on how to best use this aid--obviously, that's not being done very well if at all in many areas of the country. Another thing to recognize is that when people are hungry or seeing their children in that condition, they'll steal, so probably the crime rates are going up in the areas where they are living. Thus, if the non-needy families in those districts wish to protect themselves, then they need to improve their charities and push local, state, and federal government levels to take more action. Additionally, the minimum wage needs to be raised at the state levels even though it looks like it's a couple of years away at the federal level. Finally, instead of laying the entire problem on the poor, the reticent, coldhearted, and butt kissing congressmen need to pull their heads out of where the sun doesn't shine, and cultivate hearts of compassion and loving kindness backed by appropriate action representative of the moderate, middle way.

jacquic37's picture

I am a senior totally dependent on government programs. I live on Social Security and in assisted housing. I have only Medicare as health "insurance." Several of my friends have had their food stamp assistance cut more than half recently and have to make do on what they have. I, too, have observed young mothers shopping at the Walmart for groceries and they do, indeed, purchase items that are loaded with empty calories with few really healthy choices made for their families well being. But I was there once. I was the child of a set of parents who could not afford fresh produce and a piece of fruit was a very rare treat. By my early twenties I had lost most of my teeth to poor nutrition. I believe that there has to be a way to alter the eating habits of the poor. But the first step has to be to make produce as cheap as boxed mac and cheese. I challenge anyone to feed a family nutritious meals on the budget poor people have to work with. I thought of neighborhood gardens...of communities pitching in together to plant their own food but was told that land was scarce and even when some tried to grow food that theft became a problem because there will always be those who would rather steal than work. We have to think outside the box folks...the government is not our only source of resources!! What can we do as a tribe that will begin to address the issue of malnutrition and hunger? I don't hold out much hope of a compassionate government body addressing the issue fairly.

buddhaddy's picture

that last part, about pitching in and solving the problem ourselves as a community, is the way that will see the most good. Big, federal Government will never truly fix the problem because those in it are looking out for themselves, as are their counterparts in business. But do I see community gardens in some areas. the problem is that too many don't want to participate, but will take the food. When the original pilgrim community started, they had community gardens in that first year. but so many in the community were always sick, or otherwise unable to work the garden, but they ate the food. and so that first winter, the harvest was lean, and many went hungry. the community decided to break it up into individual privately owned plots of land, which each individual family were responsible for, and suddenly every one was able to work, because otherwise you didn't eat. And if you truly couldn't work, the community helped you. But someone has to go out in the community and do the hard work to start a garden, and motivate others to join in. We used to have those people, in the days before welfare. they helped my family when I was young. where are they?

buddhaddy's picture

The problem is that the people running the programs are afraid to hold people responsible for their own actions. And if the weren't, the "civil rights" attorneys would immediately sue the federal government if they tried to do what you say, because the feds have a lot of money they can pay if the lawsuit is won. this is a small part of why a large, federal government shouldn't have any say in how these programs are run in the states. If they have to exist, they should be run at the local level. taxes could be distributed to each state, and to each city, based simply on population, and no mandates attached. but that's not how it's done. a lot of political influence peddling, and lobbyist action accompanies that money, so not only do people continue to make poor choices, but some of the money gets "diverted" on it's way to the poor. We were originally a group of states that had a very small federal government that managed wars, a post office, etc. The states together provided an army when it was needed. small communities took care of their own. I used to weigh 325 lbs. I now weigh 100 lbs less, and spend much less on groceries. healthy food is not more expensive. it's just not comfort food.

zumacraig's picture

So poor folks are held to another standard than you? The money they get they have to use specifically for what you arbitrarily determine? That's ridiculous when our entire existence is deluged with advertising for shit we don't need, but promises comfort...which is what all people want, especially if you're hungry, tired etc.

I love how capitalists will run companies into the ground costing taxpayers et al. millions of dollars. The rich are horrible with their money. They buy dumb shit all the time. But poor folks, well, they need to be held to another standard because, well, they're poor and it's their fault. BS!

Will you right wing reactionaries think about what you say. At least consider it from some sort of a buddhist perspective.

buddhaddy's picture

I agreed that we should stop bailing out the big companies, and. . . Silence. So you agree with what i say. Good!

buddhaddy's picture

It's true that those on food asistance do "get" money. Those who earn it through their job, or their business, (most of who are not rich), don't "get" it, they earn it. Being hungry and tired doesn't excuse you from eating food that is good for you. If you are obese, and it can be directly attributed to your personal eating and activity habits, and the obesity causes illness, and prevents you from working, why should anyone else pay to further that misery for you?

And I agree that we should stop bailing out big companies and their rich CEO's. If we had to spend that bailout money, we should have divided it up and given it to those who lost their jobs, as a lump sum, and see what they did with it. I can tell you. some would sit on their behinds, and buy junk food, and start screaming for more. some would use it to start a business, and provide jobs for others. that's human nature. dont bother replying, if all you have is more criticism of me

wien1827's picture

My ideal of compassion is not modified by the very few few who take advantage of the system. I believe those who do will suffer for their mistakes one day though I do not look forward to the suffering of anyone anywhere.
Are you as concerned about those on Wall Street who manipulate us to increase their own personal wealth? I have lost much more money on Wall Street than in what I have contributed to the poor.
You so do not get it.

buddhaddy's picture

And at what amount should we begin to tax them heavily? When they finally start making enough to set aside a retirement so the rest of us don't have to take care of them? 50K a year? 100K a year? 250K a year? a million? what is the figure? I borrowed, mortgaged my modest home, and gave up my savings to start a business. Now, when i'm beginning to make enough to pay it all back, and begin to build a retirement, I won't be able to. And how much is Heavily? what is enough? the statement that we should take their money is easy to say. but what is that number?

buddhaddy's picture

How about those who bailed them out? what should be the consequences for enabling that behavior. Those "wall streeters" (more correctly: "bankers"), were willing to waste all of that money because they would have no personal consequences. if it was all their money that they were wasting, they would have acted differently. When government gives money to the rich or the poor, the result is the same. dysfunction, waste, and injustice.

buddhaddy's picture

How about those who bailed them out? what should be the consequences for enabling that behavior. Those "wall streeters" (more correctly: "bankers"), were willing to waste all of that money because they would have no personal consequences. if it was all their money that they were wasting, they would have acted differently. When government gives money to the rich or the poor, the result is the same. dysfunction, waste, and injustice.

buddhaddy's picture

And I think that if the almost 50% of the population that is not paying any taxes paid a small amount, even a few dollars a year, then the arguments would change radically. when you are not a supporting part of the system, you have no say. And as to the wall streeters, we should have not bailed them out. that problem would have taken care of itself. Yeah, Yeah, i know, all those jobs would have been lost. well, how's it working out?

Jim Spencer's picture

"They..." is a very broad brush to paint with. Some people do this, yes, but that behavior, at least in my area, is a function of a distinct lack of quality grocery stores in the lower-income parts of town. The areas of my community that have the greatest need have little more than overpriced corner stores selling high calorie / low nutrition fatty foods to choose from. Mass transit to where the better grocery stores are located is not good, either, and the companies are reluctant to build in these areas because the profit margin is not good. Completely a class issue.

When I was a food stamp recipient a number of years ago, I was conscientious about what I spent them on, as I was aware of whose money I was spending and I knew that I had to make it last. "They" could really use some education and compassion.

buddhaddy's picture

Your compassion is well placed. We should all have compassion for these people. when I was a kid, food stamps weren't an option, but we did get powdered eggs, powdered milk, canned meat, flour, corn meal, sugar, etc. Somehow we made that work. And we found a way to go down to the dispensary where they were giving this stuff away. It was manna from heaven. I'm in the poor community almost every day, and meet many of these in their homes. Not always, but often I find a lack of motivation to even try to go to where the good food is. our community is not Los Angeles, or New York, and safeways and other large markets are within walking distance or "scooter" distance. But they still buy the comfort food in many cases. When you are compassionate with your children, you often have to tell them no, learn to do it yourself. I feel that when we want to just give in to our wonderful feelings of compassion and give and give, with no demand for personal responsibility, we are not being compassionate. We're just being lazy and self-serving because we don't want to have the difficult emotions that don't just feel good.

buddhasoup's picture

There can be a lot of back and forth over the merits of government food programs. We as Buddhists can bitch and moan at each other over meditation, merit making, and economic theory. But, just as I pay attention to what Einstein had to say about relativity in physics, I also defer to what Ven. Bodhi has to say on issues of poverty and food distribution in the United States. Government programs by their nature are sometimes inefficient, but as Ven. Bodhi states, government budgets are moral statements. We spend more that any other country on war, and yet we still have starving children.

"The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher." NYTimes

Imagine what this $4-6 Trillion might have been used for in this country!

buddhaddy's picture

And what would you say was the purpose of those wars? was it nation building attempts? trying to get them to have a better government?

buddhaddy's picture

Right. we need to reallize that we are not responsible for how others in the world govern themselves. We need to stay out of it.
And as to our spending, the larger the government, the more inefficient the spending. if we as citizens must be lazy and selfish with our own money and time, and let the government spend all this money on people, what is wrong with letting the states and local communities decide without intervention how to spend it? divide it up evenly, give it to the states by population, and they can distribute it to their counties the same way. They know what's best for their own community. and corruption is much more visible on the local level than it is on the federal level. That way, if the populace doesn't benefit or like it, they can really do something, or relocate, and the problem can take care of itself.

buddhaddy's picture

The buddha had only one meal a day. whatever he could scrounge up. And he meditated. I meditate best when i am a little hungry. Starving is another matter. In spite of all that has been said anecdotally, I challenge anyone to show a starving person in the united states. And in my studies of the great depression, i never read that anyone actually starved. I give food to the poor. I do this because I have been poor, and others gave to me when I was hungry. I have family that have lived on food stamps for most of their lives. they were able to work during the "welfare to work program" of the 90's. but in the last few years have gone back on food stamps. those family members were happier and more zestful in their lives during the 90's. Human nature dictates that people will allow themselves to be enslaved by government programs, and stop participating in a meaningful life. Hunger, adversity, pain; these things allow us to LIVE our lives. The struggle to avoid these things helps us discover our true selves. if you want to help the poor eat, then DO IT. go out and find others, motivate others, give of what you have, no matter how little it is. you will do it more effectively than any government program can do it.

melcher's picture

Your comments reinforce the fact that Buddhists can be just as deluded and prejudiced as anyone else. Like every religion, Buddhism can be used as a justification for the mechanisms of oppression.

buddhasoup's picture


I am trying to understand where you might be coming from. I sense that you have faced adversity, and through adversity were able to rise up and overcome your circumstances. That is laudable. However, take a peek as these case studies:

I think Ven. Bodhi makes the case that there are millions of working poor, and many children, who go to bed hungry each night in this country. There are many who try to earn a living wage, only to see their benefits cut whenever they rise even slightly in their earnings. In a sense, these parents and children are drowning in hunger, and the government tosses them a cement life ring.

We all must do what we cam t directly help feed hungry children. No kid should go to bed at night so hungry he/she can't breathe. I also argue that "we" are the people of this government, and "we" have a voice in whether our government spends trillions on weapons of war, or on weapons for fighting disabling hunger in this country.

buddhaddy's picture

As to the case studies: In Melissa's case, I cannot offer my opinion until I know how long her daughter was out of work, and how hard she has tried to better her situation, so she could help her mother, and provide for her children. I would also need to know where the father is, and what he contributes to his children's upbringing. I would need to know how hard Melissa has tried to find another job. often, immigrant families overcome the low entry-level wages by living in joint residences. There are many other personal choice decisions that would need to be known before anyone can offer an opinion on Melissa's case. The same for all of the rest. I have not nearly enough detail to offer opinions. I can only say this: There have been many personal choices that led myself, some of my family members, (including the mother/grandmother on food stamps), and others that I meet every day in my daily work, to adverse situations. I see poor choices being made. I see those fraudulently on disability, and those who simply just don't try, because they don't have to. Many have entertainment equipment that far surpasses my own. But I have also seen those that decide they will fight the battle, even under the privations in their life. I know a person who is a paraphlegic, who works on equipment from his wheelchair, and no longer takes disability, because he's too stubborn. Life is not easy. But who do you think will become more than he or she was before: The one who says i"it's too difficult, there's not enough help", or the one who faces the adversity, no matter how difficult, and tries to overcome?

buddhaddy's picture

and it's true that many try to get out of the system, and as soon as they get any income, the system basically penalizes them. that's why a federal government cannot solve the problems. if it must be a government solution, at least leave it to the states without any fed interference. People can move from states or counties. Poor people do it all the time. they flock to California for the benefits. The federal government simply is too large, and has to paint too broad a brush. These programs have to try to prevent the fraudulent behavior that too many will express, and so the program ends up dysfunctional.

buddhaddy's picture

I have said in other parts of this blog, that if all of those who are capable of work would take whatever work is available, and work toward success, there would be enough to help those who truly cannot help themselves. However, our programs are broken, and we are running out of money, because of failed policies. The part about those who try to earn a living wage having their benefits cut is another example of the system being broken. but I have been in that situation, coming off of Medi-caid after a job loss, only to have a wage of 7.00 per hour, and a medi-caid share of cost of 1200/month. When I started my business, i had to borrow on my house, and pay $800 per month for health insurance. I just had to try to live as healthy as I could, and do the best I could, until i could improve my situation. I will probably never amass a retirement account. That is my own problem, not someone else's. focusing on the "weapons of war" only, ignores that fact that the welfare system is broken, as it always has been. the feds cannot make a program that will work all around the country. too many different situations. They should give all of that money to the states divided by their population, and no strings attached, and no mandates. states and local communities know the best for their own people. but they won't because they cannot give up the power. it's too attractive. I totally agree with you that we should give personally, all of us, no matter how little we have. someone always has less.

info91's picture

Not sure what you're studying about the Great Depression, but starvation, malnutrition, and all sorts of hunger related suffering were commonplace.

Furthermore, the U.S. averages 1 death per 100,000 people due to malnutrition related causes today.

And even short term malnutrition during your formative years can greatly impact cognitive skills and physical development. Reducing all of this to people handling being "a little hungry" is highly problematic at best.

Buddhist Peace Fellowship Guest Editor Nathan G. Thompson

buddhaddy's picture

I would like someone to tell me how much more money should be spent for it to finally be enough. Are these people all starving and poor because of the rich? Because of big business? are less people poor than in 1960 or more? I don't begrudge the poor. I went hungry for days on some occasions in the 1950's and 60's. When we got help, it was from local, (usually religious) groups that wanted to help those less fortunate. We lived in horrible places. I just don't think a federal bureaucracy can do the job to anyone's satisfaction, no matter how much is spent. Please tell me: We've spent trillions. is it working?

buddhaddy's picture

yes, hunger and malnutrition can be devastating. and it appears that with 110 people dying in 1933, (I wish I had the details behind that statement), with a population of approximately 122,000,000, that with all of the trillions we have spent, we haven't made much if any progress if people are still dying at the rate of 1/100,000. I meet many of the poor, who are on assistance, in my daily work. while others are going hungry, these have TV's larger than mine, cell phones, late mode cars, and the latest video game consoles. And I'm not talking about a few people. I see it often. If we have to have government do it, then at least let the states and locals do it. they know what their needs are much better than some giant bureaucracy far away. Send the money to the states, with no mandates and no strings, divided by population, and let the locals handle these things. they will be better. Not much, but better.

zumacraig's picture

So right. I so wish I was hungry and in pain so I could find my true self. And of all these lazy families would just get off food stamps, they'd be more zestful. People might be hungry in the US, but no one is starving. No big deal. We're enslaved by government. We just gotta get rid of it and everyone would find their true selves through avoidance of pain and hunger. That's it! The key to an enlightened society.

buddhaddy's picture

If you are not hungry and in pain, perhaps you could give some of what you have to those who are. I work with many who have pain. Some are miserable with it. Some accept and overcome it. what happens to you, you have no control over. You do have complete control over how you respond to it. When I was young and poor, my suffering was because those around me had things i didn't have, and I desired to have those things. It was not because of what I didn't have. One benefit of growing up on the "wrong side of the tracks", was that I now am happy with much less than many have, and I understand and help the poor when I can, giving of myself, not asking others to give on my behalf.

zumacraig's picture

Charity has failed, if you don't see this, you are deluded. The system perpetuates this poverty and suffering. There's much more to it that government inefficiency. You gotta get past this individualism and think more collectively.

zumacraig's picture

The hunger problem will never be solved unless capitalism is dismantled. Commodification of basic human needs causes the majority of suffering in the world. Why are Buddhists sitting in meditation when they should be working for real change in this world to end suffering? Can you imagine a human collective mind where food, shelter and medical care were our main, naturalized, concerns rather than personal enlightenment, entertainment, drama and profit? It's possible, but not when we remain deluded by these mindfulness teachers, drivel like Tricycle and thinking capitalism is the natural way of things.

buddhaddy's picture

Because sitting to pierce the veil of illusion is what a buddhist does. if you are a buddhist, and think sitting is selfish, then you, yourself, should quit sitting and go help someone. Or start a group to help the poor, rather than blaming capitalism. take time away from television, texting, riding the internet, having fun with your friends, and do something real. letting a "collective", or a government program, or someone else do the work is not helping, and doesn't even do the job. just look around you. but it can make us think we are doing something when we proclaim our outrage. Yes i can imagine a human collective mind where food, shelter, and medical care were our main, naturalized concerns. But i can imagine many things. open both hands. then "imagine" spitting in one hand, and spit in the other. see which one fills up first. Is not karma about personal responsibility for our own actions? does feeding the poor help them develop their abilities, or improve their Karma? true mindfulness includes observing human behavior, not just listening to news, or to those who say what you want to hear. it is looking closely at human nature. observe, and you will see.

zumacraig's picture

Working to end capitalism is the most buddhist thing one can do. Your assertion of 'blaming capitalism' is dangerous, naive and infantile. As is your understanding of karma. Please, stay in your mindfulness bliss so as not to realize the evils of capitalism that you yourself have suffered under...and still do. The veil over my eyes has been pierced by thinking! You, however, remain under complete delusion, to your and all sentient being's detriment.

buddhaddy's picture

I believe that working to end suffering is the most buddhist thing one can do. no other than me can know if I suffered under any system, only that i experienced it. All suffering is caused only by our own desire and clinging, is it not? I would ask, though, that you explain the details of my delusion. stating that I am deluded does not say anything. Also explain the details of why my assertion is 1. Dangerous 2. naive. 3. infantile. stating those things has no meaning without explanation. And I thank you for the heartfelt discussion. I hope it can continue.

zumacraig's picture

okay, working to end suffering is great. but how? suffering is caused by capitalism. if you don't see this then you are deluded and complacent with a system that causes suffering. that is the dangerous and naive part. the infantile part is your simplistic, individualist, belief-focused attitude. buddhism is about ending the system causes of suffering in the world, not some individualist attempt at 'enlightenment'. ideological awareness is key too.

check this out if you're interested in challenging these delusions.

buddhaddy's picture

Suffering is caused by our own desires for what we do not have. it is that simple. Think mindfully on it. There is no more to be said.

zumacraig's picture

"Suffering is caused by our own desires for what we do not have. it is that simple. Think mindfully on it. There is no more to be said."

I would say that this is the beginning of the conversation as this definition of suffering is lacking and mindfulness stops all conversation.

mattbard's picture

... food is basic for human life and dignity....... hungry people don't meditate... corruption problems?-fix them. budget problems? solve them. for goodness sake don't allow hunger to stalk the land..............matt

buddhaddy's picture

great ideas: corruption? Fix it, (how?). budget problems? fix it, (how?).

buddhaddy's picture

the Buddha or his monks never meditated when hungry?

Tharpa Pema's picture

Thank you, Tricycle, for publishing this.
P.S. Just wrote my representative.