Howard G. Buffett joins Feeding America President and CEO Vicki Escarra in this response to the Wall Street Journal's recent article, The Myth of the Starving Americans. As of today, this response has not yet been accepted for publication by the Wall Street Journal.
To The Editor:
The Myth of Starving Americans by Warren Kozak (Jan.30, 2012) is astonishingly biased and potentially harmful.
As a national network of food banks on the front lines of hunger on a daily basis, it is inconceivable that anyone would question that hunger exists in America. Not only does it exist, it is present in every state and every county across our nation. While we can all agree that jobs are the best solution to hunger, millions of families are still hurting from the worst recession in decades and for many, job opportunities remain few and far between.
Kozak cherry-picks his facts and figures in an attempt to prove allegations that are inaccurate and mean-spirited: that federal government programs waste billions of dollars providing food to people that are not really in need of help, and that fraud and abuse are rampant.
Ignored by Kozak is the USDA's September 2011 report, Food Security Status of U.S. Households, 2010, which is generally considered the gold-standard for data on Americans living at risk of hunger.
That report found that nearly 49 million Americans are food insecure and that 16 million Americans live in households with "very low food security." In other words, 16 million Americans literally find themselves going hungry at times because they cannot buy or access food.
In our nation today, where 1 in 7 Americans live at or below poverty — a family of four attempting to survive on an annual household income of $22,350 or less — it is not surprising that so many people lack the funds to provide themselves and their families with three square meals a day. The reason the numbers of American's going without meals on a regular basis is not higher is because safety net programs like SNAP and school lunches are working exactly as intended.
SNAP benefits are targeted to the most vulnerable in our communities. Eighty-four percent of all benefits go to households that include a child, elderly, or disabled person. In other words, people who are too young, too old, or simply unable to work. While much attention has been given to the fact that participation has grown significantly in recent years, it is only shocking to learn that SNAP participation grew by 53 percent from 2006 to 2010 if you fail to mention that the number of unemployed people grew by 110 percent over the same time period.
Kozak alleges that fraud is "major problem" but, in fact, SNAP error rates declined by 61 percent from 1999 to 2010, to a record low of 3.81 percent. The accuracy rate of 96 percent is now at an all-time program high, and is considerably higher than other major benefit programs, for example Supplemental Security Income (90 percent), Medicare fee-for-service (89.5 percent), and Medicare Advantage Part C (85.9 percent).
Investing in federal anti-hunger programs is not just the right thing to do, it is also a wise investment of resources that delivers results on multiple bottom lines by containing costs in healthcare, increasing worker productivity, creating more robust and efficient local economies, which then becomes a platform for upward mobility.
Feeding America provides food and groceries to more than 5.7 million Americans each and every week. The staff and volunteers of our food banks and the food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency feeding centers they serve are literally in the trenches, face to face every day with Americans who come to us when their food stamps are exhausted and their cupboards are bare.
We would invite Mr. Kozak to join come to one of our facilities and learn firsthand the facts about hunger in America.
President and CEO
Howard G. Buffett
Ambassador Against Hunger
United Nations World Food Program