“Don’t ever think it can’t happen to you because it happened to me.”
Bill, an Army veteran, lives in Michigan with his wife and two children. He spent 16 years as an autoworker, but after several pay concessions, his plant closed and he was unable to afford food, health insurance, and other basic expenses. His story exemplifies the fact that even hard-working middle class families can find themselves in need of assistance after a job loss or other life changing event.
“I had planned to work until I wasn’t able to anymore. I thought that after working hard all my life, I’d be living the good life now.”
At age 62, after 16 years as a certified nursing assistant in rural Mississippi, Whitney was let go from her job. She found herself needing to apply for social security benefits early, not old enough for Medicare and unable to afford health insurance. She lived with constant stress, worried about managing her chronic health conditions and often forced to decide whether to buy food or medicine or pay bills.
“That’s what happened to me…they cut me off food stamps. After three months, if you’re not fulfilling the work requirements, you don’t qualify. So, that’s a huge crack in the system.”
Tim is a Navy veteran who served during the Persian Gulf War, but he did not serve long enough to qualify for veterans benefits — 20 months instead of 24 months. Following an injury, he was unable to work and applied for SNAP (formerly food stamps) so he could afford food. But he was cut off from SNAP after three months, because he could not meet the stringent work requirements — he became homeless and lost so much weight that he had to add seven holes on his belt. He was finally able to find assistance from his local food bank, but that only provided a few meals per week.
It took a bipartisan effort throughout the 20th century to create a social safety net that would catch people when they fell on unexpected hard times. And it was a bipartisan effort that steadily weakened that social safety net over the subsequent years. Because of spending cuts, policies that imposed harsh restrictions, and stigma against those who struggle and need assistance, America’s social safety net is now in tatters. Millions of Americans — like Bill, Whitney, and Tim — live just one emergency away from food insecurity. The infrastructure that should support them too often fails.
A broken social safety net is not enough — we must fight for a better support system for all those in need, whenever they need it.
The voices of people who experience hunger illuminate the gaps in our nation’s social safety net and encourage us to imagine a future where those gaps are closed. These are just three of the millions of Americans facing the everyday reality of food insecurity.
Stories of a Broken
Galleries & Exhibits
- 11865-1925: Hunger in the Industrial City
- 21929-1940: America in Crisis and Recovery
- 31945-1965: WWII and the Paradoxes of the Postwar Era
- 41955-1980: The Fight for the Right to Food
- 51975-1996: The Unmaking of the Great Society
- 61997-Present: How It Is — And How It Should Be