Letter: Responsibility rests with employers, too
To the Editor:This letter is in response to Donald Keelan's commentary in the Manchester Journal on July 27 that focused on the "personal responsibility" of those Vermonters who need to supplement their income with government-funded food programs. He insists that most households who receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and children who receive school lunches under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) reflect a chronic absence of "personal responsibility." However, instead of relying on actual facts, he resorts to anecdotal stories of a child going to school in dirty clothes and the menu of the "free" school lunch provided to needy children.So, what's the reality? When we look at the data from the USDA for Vermont in 2016 (the latest data posted), it shows that of those households receiving SNAP (12.9 percent of all households), 71.8 percent had one or more employed worker, 53.6 percent of households had a disabled individual, 36.8 percent had one or more persons near or at retirement age (60+ years), and 39.4 percent of SNAP households have children under 18 years of age. It is not possible to directly extrapolate from these summary figures, but it is evident that Keelan's rant is directed at only a small minority of people receiving aid, and a miniscule proportion of Vermont's total population. The same can be said for children qualifying for free meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).Most households utilizing SNAP and NSLP include folks who are either working, disabled, retired, or where a head-of-household's ability to work is impaired by the need to care for a young child or disabled member of the family. Most SNAP recipients are being responsible, but just cannot make ends meet without additional support. Food, clothing, shelter, and transportation are basic necessities that quickly outstrip a poor family's budget. In that light, a recent article in the New York Times pointed to the fact that nationally, "Millions of low-income Americans are paying 70 percent or more of their incomes for shelter " and that research finds that "a worker earning the state minimum wage could afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in only 22 of the country's 3,000 counties" (NYT, 7/29/2018). As long as we are talking about responsibility, perhaps it would be more appropriate to refer to the responsibility of corporations and employers to pay a living wage. After all, if workers brought home enough in their paychecks to afford adequate housing, food, and healthcare there would be less need for programs such as SNAP, NSLP, Section 8 housing, and Medicaid. In offering a minimal safety net for the poor, these programs actually serve to subsidize employers' practice of paying sub-standard wages. Instead of pointing the finger of blame at the most disadvantaged, let us place the onus where it belongs: on those who profit from the labor of struggling workers trying to make ends meet. The real question we must ask ourselves is why do we subsidize for-profit corporations so that they can pay meager wages that do not allow families to obtain the basic necessities of life. Why aren't we talking about corporate and employer "responsibility"? That is the discussion that should be taking place.
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