Tipped staff getting stiffed

Twenty-three years ago (in 1991), I was a second grader at Hopkins Elementary school. My favorite band was The New Kids on the Block and the cost of a gallon of gas my mother put in her car was $1.14. That year my mother was working as a waitress at the Holiday Inn restaurant nearby our house and the federal minimum wage for tipped staff was $2.13.

Today, my oldest is in third grade, he likes to play Minecraft on his iPod and when I filled up my hybrid car today the cost of a gallon of gas was $3.63 . . . the Federal minimum wage for tipped staff…… still $2.13.

My mother worked for the Holiday Inn for 12 years. She was a professional server and performed to the highest levels where people would come in and request her as their server. She would provide table service and flambé. I know if I tried to flambé I would probably burn down my house. It takes a professional server to provide this type of dining experience and those who enjoy this experience pay for it with the price of their meals as well as the tip they give to their server for the exceptional experience. After 10 years, on her anniversary, she received a pin.

On Wall Street and in professional business at the end of each year, if your company is profitable, and sometimes even when it’s not, employees are rewarded with a bonus.  In 2013, bankers on Wall Street brought home their biggest bonuses since before the 2008 financial crisis. In the restaurant industry when business is profitable employees rarely if ever see a bonus and never see a raise.

It is time we treat our tipped workers as professionals.  About 10 percent of low-wage workers depend on tips as their main source of income and with the minimum wage still stuck at $2.13 many of these workers never see a paycheck because what little money they do earn pays their taxes on the tips. Their tips are what allow them to provide for their families. They get tipped poorly one day that could be the difference between dinner on the table or gas in their car.

Last month the Congressional Budget Office released a report called “The Effects of a Minimum-Wage Increase on Employment and Family Income.”  There is a lot of information in this 43 page report discussing a few options for raising the minimum wage and how it will impact low-wage workers, their families, the economy, and businesses.
The report gives a couple of options for raising the minimum wage with one being an incremental increase to $10.10 per hour.  With the $10.10 option the federal minimum wage would increase by .95 cents over the course of the next three years with $10.10 being achieved by July 2016 and minimum wage would rise with the consumer price index in subsequent years. But that is for regular minimum wage workers, not the tipped workers. The CBO report suggests raising the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 per hour to $4.90 in three steps timed to coincide with the changes in the standard minimum wage. Then, starting in 2017, the minimum wage for tipped workers would rise by .95 cents each year until it reached 70 percent of the standard minimum wage, in subsequent years, it would be tied to inflation.

However, I suggest we make this easier on everyone involved. Let there be one minimum wage. Not a different wage for tipped employees. We should treat our tipped employees as professionals in their industry much like we do the financial services industry on Wall Street. When we do that, the tip you give your server, your bellhop, your hairdresser; that tip is their “bonus” for doing their jobs to the highest level of professionalism. For the flambé at your table side, for the perfectly placed highlights, for the car taken with your personal items.

The bonus corporate America receives pays for their fine dining experience or the vacation with drinks by the pool. The increased wage a service industry employee would receive puts a meal on their own table and pays for the transportation to their job at that fine dining restaurant or the resort vacation with those drinks served by the pool.

The TODAY Show & Easter Fun!

Being a busy mom I love it when ideas are offered to make my life a little easier. It could be a new recipe to try on the family or a new craft or activity to play with the kids. Things like Pinterest and other blogs on the internet are always helpful in grabbing some quick ideas to liven things up. I’ll be honest creativity is sometimes tough for me to muster on my own.

Yesterday, Donovan and Camryn had the privilege to participate with Meredith Sinclair from MeredithPlays on the Today Show. So picking them up from school on Wednesday we drove the two hours to New York City and early Thursday morning they got to try out some great ideas to occupy the kids for Easter.

Here is the video from the segment I hope you get some fun ideas to do with your own families this weekend.

Happy Easter!

Family EGG-travaganza!

Same Push Up, Same Pay

aryanna mil 3

I can remember when I returned home from my deployment overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I was going to be promoted to Specialist, which is the rank just below Sergeant, and I was excited to gain more responsibility and start providing more leadership within my Platoon and Section.

That day I was promoted along with two of my fellow soldiers and friends. We had the same job (we were Radio Communication Operators/Maintainers) performed at the same level of physical fitness, and always performed our duties well. I knew that day when we were preparing for promotion that it didn’t matter that I was a woman and they were men, we would be paid the same for the same job and the transparency of that pay was clear.  It was and is no secret within the military ranks.

Unfortunately in most industries the transparency of pay doesn’t exist. I don’t know what my co-workers salary is and they don’t know mine and in some organizations you can be terminated for announcing how much money you do make. It is this type of policy that encourages pay discrimination and is why women are still paid at rates well below men.

Today President Obama will sign an Executive Order banning federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their pay as well as sign a Presidential memorandum instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data  on compensation paid to their employees, including  data by sex and race. However I believe that making pay transparent within organizations accomplishes both of those tasks.

Our Military is a proving ground for what we should be doing across the Nation. Offering the transparency of pay doesn’t affect job performance negatively but it lifts the veil surrounding pay and equality within the workplace and promotes hard work and challenges employees.

Whenever we have an inequality in pay between men and women, that is a family economic insecurity matter. The gas I put in my car, the food I buy for my children, they aren’t less expensive to me just because I am a women and my paycheck shouldn’t be less just because I am not a man.

Going Old School on School Lunch

With March being National Nutrition Month, what better way to encourage healthy eating and nutrition then to head to our farms. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of farms and acres permanently preserved for agricultural production with over 7.75 million with 97% of those farms being family owned. 

As recently as February of this year, The Journal of the American Medical Association released a report showing that there was a 43 percent drop in obesity rates in children ages 2 to 5. That is a significant improvement and shows that through educating parents, their little ones are developing better eating habits and suggests they are relatively more active. However, in the larger section of youths ranging from ages 2 to 19, and the overall population of adults, there were no dramatic changes in obesity rates. That statistic worries me as the mother of two young children and it alarms me as a veteran of the United States Army. According to the 2012 study To Fat to Fight, 1 in 4 young adults were found to be unfit to serve in today’s military. Our work is still cut out for us with school age children. 

One of the ways we improve the health and nutrition of our school age kids is through their school lunches. School lunches have made recent changes due to the Healthy Kids Act of 2010. But the implementation of that legislation has been a slow process and those improvements don’t do much for local economies.

While easy, cost effective and convenient, current school lunches are doing more to hurt than help. Just read a school lunch menu.  With some days being better than others, I can honestly say our kids are nutritionally getting the short end of the stick and for many children, meals at school are the only consistent source of food they will receive in a day.

So let’s go old school on the school lunch by focusing our purchasing power on community sourcing their food supply. That means buying fresh, local foods for school lunches from the farm just down the road. These local purchases of fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, lean meats are already popular in Pennsylvania with 93% of Pennsylvanians wanting to purchase locally produced items. And where we have schools with no farm nearby, Pennsylvania’s urban areas are blessed to be within no more than an hour’s commute of them. A model for this is already in practice within the Los Angeles Unified School District, easily one of the largest school districts in the nation.

With that one change we can set in motion an increase on Pennsylvania’s economy by billions of dollars each year while reducing the waistlines of youth in the Commonwealth. Here’s how:

On average, schools spend about $1 per serving on school lunches each day. With almost 1.8 million school students in Pennsylvania, the daily revenue our farming community could reap is a simple calculation. And this doesn’t even take into consideration school breakfast programs.

Setting healthy eating standards in our schools only makes sense. Our children need a healthy breakfast and lunch to concentrate and perform at their best. And again, for those children who rely upon school for a reliable meal, we need to make it their best meal.

We can also provide a long-lasting educational value. Have local farmers come in to speak to students about how their food is grown. Let’s get kids excited about new ways to eat their favorite fruits and discover their new favorite vegetable. It all prepares our children for a lifetime of healthy eating choices.

In the Army we were trained to lead the way when we believed that something will benefit the greater good. By being fit and transitioning to a community sourced discipline on food purchasing, we will reduce the waistlines of Pennsylvania’s youth and lead the way for our nation. Our children, and our economic and national security will all grow healthier for decades.

This post was originally published as an Op-Ed on PennLive.com

Punching Paul Ryan’s Lunch Card

As the sun touched the old faded blue farmhouse in Sherwood, Oregon, I would awaken. Only a few hours before had my mother returned home from waiting tables and my father had left for his job as a maintenance man. My mother rushed the five of us, still living at home, around the house getting ready for school sharing the one tiny bathroom on the main floor.
 
My family was a part of the working poor and even though both of my parents put in an honest day’s work we qualified for and received the free lunch at school. At Hopkins Elementary School each classroom had a board that hung our lunch cards neatly in rows. Those kids who received free lunch had cards that were white and those whose families paid for their lunch had yellow cards. The cafeteria staff would punch a hole in your card and you would place it back into your classroom’s board.
 
Today, during a speech at the CPAC confab in Washington,  Congressman Paul Ryan was recounting an anecdote he heard when he said “…a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag, just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
 
What I am afraid Mr. Ryan doesn’t understand is that I never felt uncared for or unloved. Did I feel embarrassed and ashamed some days that my lunch card was a different color and the other kids knew my family was poor because we couldn’t afford to pay for my lunch. Yes. Uncared for? Never.  Did I wish that there were days I could bring in a brown paper bag filled with food from my home that my mother made? Sure. Fish Fridays were never my favorite. But I was happy to know that my parents worked hard to take care of me and provide me with a loving home. I learned more from my parents by watching them work day in and day out, never complaining, doing their best, hoping that one day they would break free of the chains of poverty.
 
What I think Mr. Ryan does not understand is what it means to be a part of the working poor. Where you spend your days working multiple jobs, making lousy pay, coming home tired, and not being able to put a decent meal on the table for your family. What we on the left do understand is that we must strengthen our families by treating them with respect. That means paying a living wage so parents can afford to feed their families.
 
I was able to make it out of poverty because I joined the U.S Army. Which is another government program. The Army me taught me many things and reinforced those I learned from my parents that through hard work, determination, and fighting for what we believe in together we can do anything. Mr. Ryan, so if my parents didn’t care for me because I didn’t get a sack lunch, does that mean you don’t care for America because you didn’t serve?
 
Instead of telling the left what they don’t understand maybe you should instead look to the people you represent and the rest of the nation to tell them that you do understand and that by raising the minimum wage to a living wage more parents can provide basic essentials to their children and not rely on free lunch.

UPDATE: Turns out Congressman Ryan lied about the entire anecdote too.

Food Fight!

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”

~John F. Kennedy

Over the course of the last few months I have been thinking a lot about food and it’s not just because I was planning holiday meals, weekly dinners, and school lunches.  I have written before about The health of American exceptionalism and a 2009 study entitled “Ready, Willing and Unable To Serve” conducted by Mission: Readiness, which looked exclusively at the youth of Pennsylvania (ages 17-24). I discovered that if you combine those who are obese along with those who have other health related issues; over half of Pennsylvania’s prime military recruitment-aged population would fail the physical readiness baselines. Even more alarming is that the military is spending $1.1 billion a year on service-members that are struggling with weight related health issues. In a follow-up study titled “Still too Fat to Fight” from Mission: Readiness they conduct a national survey for the military by the CDC that shows that approximately 1 in 4 young adults is unable to serve.

When I joined the military in 2001 at 18 years old I was in pretty great shape, or so I thought. I played basketball in high school and I have always gone running for enjoyment; however at 5’2” I weighed about 150 pounds. My weight requirement for the Army was between 104 – 136 pounds. What that meant was that I then needed to be measured for body fat percentage; an embarrassing moment for any female but in the Army, there is no room for being embarrassed.

Maintaining a body fat percentage of less than 30% was necessary in order to ensure that I could be promoted, attend professional military schools, and accept assignments working for the Command, Command Sergeant Major or First Sergeant.  There were a few times I didn’t make the 30% cut-off which meant I had to train additionally each day to lose the weight.  It didn’t matter that I often performed to the highest levels of physical fitness measured by push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run, it was my weight that mattered and it was my weight that if not controlled I would be discharged from the Army for.  It wasn’t my level of fitness that put me in this state it was the quality of food and nutrition I was getting.

 We develop our eating habits as children and these eating habits stick with us for the rest of our lives unless we make a concerted effort to change them.

As a child my mother did her best to ensure we had food to eat and it was less about quality and more about quantity. There were a lot of us to feed and not a lot of money, so no one can blame her. They were not all the well-balanced meals we try to feed our children that include vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, the vegetables I ate were green beans and corn and they always came from a can. There were many nights of macaroni and cheese and hot dogs, spaghetti, ramen noodles, and peanut butter and jelly. While at school during the day I received the free school lunch.  School lunches had standards from the USDA but were not as robust as the standards that have been enacted today. In 2010 Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which consists of offering more whole grains, reduced fat dairy, and more fruits and vegetables. At the end of 2012 the USDA finalized nutrition standards for competitive foods and beverages sold at school. And our First Lady Michelle Obama has lead the charge to promote good nutrition through the Let’s Move campaign.

There is something going on here. If we look to how many children are food insecure, 16 million or 1 in 5 children, the quality of food they are receiving, food banks, SNAP benefits, school lunches, their future ability to serve in the United States Military, and the quality of food they are receiving while serving in the military there are definite links but there is also definitely something we can do about it.

Schools that meet the new standards from the USDA will have access to additional funding and will be reimbursed an additional 6 cents for each lunch they serve in accordance with the new standards. But what about those currently serving, who are in the same position I was that have to relearn how to eat? There has to be something we can do for them, to educate and promote healthy eating habits within the ranks.

The Department of Defense has started a campaign of their own called Operation Live Well and their Healthy Base Initiative. These programs are promoting healthy living within the base, from tobacco cessation, good nutrition, and exercise.

While these fixes of healthy eating, nutrition, and lifestyle changes have been focusing on two very large institutions of people and making changes within them, there are some very no-nonsense solutions that if implemented, would redirect our eating habits toward a healthier path.

Within the Armed Forces we can implement the following: 

  1. Offer more organic and natural foods at the Commissary; bring the farmer’s market indoor so that fresh local fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats are offered throughout the week and not just on the weekend.
  2. Put nutritional information on all of the meals being served at the dining facilities so service-members can make smarter choices, offer more organic and natural foods within the dining facility.
  3. Instead of closing dining facilities as was done in 2012, remove the fast food restaurants from each military installation, moving them outside the gate. Not only will the health of our service-members increase the military will save money on the food-service contracts it gives to fast food chains.

Within schools we can:

  1. Provide nutritional information to parents on the school lunch menu. This easy step helps parents determine how many calories their children are receiving each day at school and plan accordingly with their home meals.
  2. Every lunch served at schools should offer an option that is organic and natural. All dairy products and meats should be hormone free.
  3. Offer a free healthy and nutritious breakfast to every student. School breakfast can not only improve a child’s ability to learn it improves their nutrition and protects against obesity.

We’re in a food fight and it is one of general well-being, financial sensibility as well as our national security. And while the process of transforming our nutritional priorities and establishing real solutions may be a messy one, accepting the current process of consuming deficient policies that are being fed to us will surely bring about continued decades of decline.

Through common-purpose and embrace an attitude of being ready, willing and able to take on the challenge, there is no doubt that we can win our food fight.

Some Day Maybe Leaders

I despise people who go to the gutter on either the right or the left and hurl rocks at those in the center.

                                                                                                   – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I want to lead like that some day.”

When is the last time you heard a child iterate those words? The reason you may have not, especially in the arena of political leadership, is that no one is providing them, or even us with a solid example.

Everyone has a definition of what that means but in the most basic sense, being a leader should be reserved for those who stick their necks out there, unafraid of someone stepping on it, especially in times when others are in need.

It means making the difficult decisions and standing up for them. Leadership is showing respect, having integrity, and above all else, being honest with those you intend to have follow your decisions.

I have had the good fortune in my life to have had great leaders around me from a young age. I was witness to great leaders starting in middle and high school with basketball coaches, to the military and the Non-Commissioned Officers and Officers who knew what it meant to be the first to cross into harm’s way. The supervisor at my first real job when I got out of the Army, a Marine Vietnam Veteran; they all showed me what it meant to set the right priorities in order to accomplish our goals and do so in a manner we could be proud of.

What I want to know is who, within this framing of leadership, is guiding our decision-makers in Congress today? I look at what we call leadership in Washington and it concerns me that over the course of the last two weeks, and let’s face it, even longer, we haven’t seen one true servant of selflessness emerge on either side of the aisle.

We haven’t seen one person stand up and risk it all for the sake of the American people.

Those who continue to collect a paycheck in Congress act cautiously, afraid as if 2014 is going to bring about an apocalyptic end to their political career, all the while ordinary Americans face the uncertainty of an end to their everyday lives. Those members of Congress fail on the mark of bold leadership.

In 1935, our nation experienced an economic catastrophe that saw over 50% of our senior citizens falling into poverty. While it  was considered by some to be “socialism”, Democrats and Republicans worked together to create the Social Security Act. Unafraid.

I worry.

Social Security payments are on the verge of not making it to those who are both in the “twilight” and “shadows” of their lives.  The truth of the matter is that people like my mom, Cici, will lose out along with countless other Americans, if Congress doesn’t accept the responsibility for the position in which they have been elected. I am worried for my mother and those like her whose only form of income is Social Security. As of November 1st will she receive her check? If not how will she pay rent in her tiny one bedroom apartment? How will she pay for her prescription drugs that keep her healthy? The Social Security Administration has begun warning the public that full benefits may not be forthcoming if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. The agency is notifying beneficiaries that “unlike a federal shutdown which has no impact on the payment of Social Security benefits, failure to raise the debt ceiling puts Social Security benefits at risk.”

Not only do I worry about my mother I am worrying about 5.2 million of my fellow veterans and their families. These men and women who gave it all serving our country and have a service-connected disability, those attending college, or other benefit payments will be in jeopardy come November 1st. Those veterans in need of access to care at the VA facilities; those returning home in need of help are going to be experiencing wait times while their claims are being processed. The backlog at the VA we have made so much progress on is piling up again with close to 2,000 claims in just two weeks.

We are losing out as a Nation. We have elected men and women we thought were leaders only to be duped. There is no leadership, there is no one we can look to and say that is someone I want to emulate. That is a leader; someone who puts the people first and their own self-interest second.

I challenge all of Pennsylvania’s House delegation and our Senators to take a long hard look at what they are doing and become the best of the leaders that inspired them. I challenge them to stand up and show us who you are as a leader. As I often say…PROVE IT.

Are you satisfied with the leadership in Washington? If you’re not, issue the same challenge to your current members of Congress and if they don’t PROVE IT- our “some day” to lead is now.

Growing up to avoid a shut down

When I left the military I was fortunate to quickly find a civilian job. I was employed by a Defense contractor at the Tobyhanna Army Depot and shortly after as a full-time employee there. In 2004 and 2005 there were close to 5,000 employees at Tobyhanna working hard to build and rebuild electronics equipment for every branch of the military. This equipment was the same equipment I used when I was deployed overseas in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and it was great to meet the people that made sure the equipment I used to defend our Nation worked. It was even more humbling to be a part of their team. I knew the work I did every day was helping my former battle buddies still serving on the front lines of war. There are depots across the country that support our military members with everything from there electronics equipment to the vehicles they drive and the ships that patrol.

As many of you know in less than 12 hours the government will shut-down.

When that happens an estimated 800,000 to 1 million federal employees would be furloughed and of that number, 400,000 civilian defense employees would not be going to work. I was one of those 400,000 only a few short years ago and I have many friends that still are. This is a direct cut to their pay and could potentially be a huge blow to their families as well as our economy.  People won’t be able to make their mortgage payment, pay their credit card bill, or buy groceries for their family depending on how long the government remains shut down. These aren’t all a bunch of lazy paper-pushers who are stereotyped for working for a small portion of their day. These Federal employees are not wealthy by any stretch and many of them live paycheck-to-paycheck like the rest of America.

But why a government shut-down? If you don’t already know Congressional Republicans who control the House passed a spending bill, also known as a Continuing Resolution (CR), that maintains current spending levels but does not provide funding for Obamacare. In the Senate, controlled by Democrats, they won’t pass the continuing resolution because it won’t provide funding for Obamacare. The fight remains over Obamacare and unless the two-sides grow-up the government will shut down. An interesting note here though is that a government shut-down will not delay the implementation of Obamacare. Obamacare, just like Social Security and Medicaid are funded through mandatory appropriations not annual funding by Congress.

So tell me again why the government might shut-down? Because those we have sent there to represent us…aren’t. When you hear those in Washington telling you that they passed a CR that continues to fund government but leaves out appropriations for Obamacare, they aren’t being close to genuine. When bills are passed, they become law. And when they are the law and require appropriations, that must be done by Congress. Obamacare was passed. It’s the law. And to not fund it is to not fund how our government functions.

Oddly enough, when government shuts down, the same members of Congress who voted to do so will continue to get paid while many of those who carry out the functions of government won’t.

Grass Stains

Nothing is ever gonna keep me down. I jump over hurdles. I’ll come around. And if at first I don’t succeed. I’m gonna try it again ’til I get what I need.

-Ziggy Marley, Walk Tall

 While walking through the grocery store on Sunday I get a text message that states: “Camryn wants to learn to ride her bike without training wheels today. Let’s head to the school so she can practice when you get home.”  A little background here is in order. You should know that Daren told Camryn that she would learn to ride her bike by the end of summer and with yesterday being the first day of fall, she was not about to let the calendar beat her.

Quickly finishing the trip and heading back home I am excited to help and watch my youngest learn to ride her bike without the security of training wheels trailing behind her. Dressed in last year’s pink pants, perfect for grass stains and rips, her bright blue helmet with whiskers and ears that looks like a kitty, and a stare of sheer determination we walk the few blocks to the school.

Before leaving the house Daren turns to me and says “resist the temptation.” With a somewhat bewildered look I ask him what he means. He says to me “when you feel the temptation to do something…resist it.” So as we continue our walk to the school I think about this comment and decide to let go and not let my emotions get the best of me or allow myself to over-protect from the inevitable cuts and bruises. It’s just time for Camryn to show me what she can do.  I will resist the temptation.

So, after a conversation with Daren about balance, foot and hand placement, and where to look, the lesson began. There was the typical holding the back of the seat and running, then letting go and watching as she pedaled a few rounds and falling down. With each fall she jumped right back up, lined her bike up again, and was working towards the next run. Then Daren whispered one additional instruction to her . . .

While pushing her legs and her eyes narrowing with fighter pilot focus, I could hear her saying to herself over and over again, “I can do this, I can do this” and then she would fall.  Never once did I hear her say in defeat, “I can’t.”

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Within 30 minutes of practicing Camryn did it. She pedaled all the way across the field and even on to the basketball court where she came to a perfect stop. The look of pure joy covered her face. Cheers rang out across the schoolyard and high-fives followed quickly thereafter.

While watching my daughter achieve this epic moment in her life it allowed me to reflect on how as adults we often forget what it means to succeed and the path we take to get there. The clichéd definition of success is making the most money, driving the most expensive car, and living in the largest house all while having things fall into perfect place. I would like you all to know that the narrow definition of success described above certainly isn’t the one we should be teaching our children or even living by ourselves as adults.

Handing out the label of success should be celebrated more so when a person fails multiple times but has the courage to get back up. Success is having pure determination when you have a goal in mind and reaching that goal, no matter how long it takes. It is easy to get caught up in the trap of other people’s success defining yours. Sometimes it’s the little self-affirmations of “I can do this!” while working as hard as you can and other times it is the shouts of encouragement from those around you that keep you going. Most of all it is never saying you can’t.

Think about your successes. How did you get there or how do you plan on getting there? Who is cheering you on? Your voice should be the loudest but I bet there are other voices surrounding you who know you can do it too. Sometimes it is about letting go to let those we care about get a few grass stains too.

Above all else, be sure to get those grass stains . . . even on your pink pants, but keep getting up. The world needs your contribution.

No More Hunger Games

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”  – Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve talked about my mom before, a waitress for the majority of her life, and my father a maintenance man at a hotel. We were a part of the working poor. My parents just making enough money to barely get by, there were times when making sure the water didn’t get shut-off was more important than making sure there was food in the pantry. Food stamps then were paper and came in booklets and local churches were the ones who handed out food baskets at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Today according to the Congressional Budget Office report, 48 million Americans rely upon food stamps to make up some portion of what they need to feed their families. These people are the poor and working poor, either living in poverty or on the verge. This group includes single moms, recent college graduates, senior citizens, veterans, and active duty members of the military.

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program, more formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. It is very likely this bill won’t pass the Senate but it should wake you up to know that there are people, those decision makers I’ve talked about, that truly don’t understand what it means to be poor and what it means to know that you are unable to feed yourself and your kids. This cut and any other like it will cause additional stress on the network of food banks across America that are already struggling to keep their shelves stocked. The men and women in Washington cite fraud, waste, abuse, and dependency, especially the dependency, we are creating as reason to cut the $40 billion from the program.

This is the same argument and conversation that has been said ad nauseum since Ronald Reagan was President. I believe we need to change the conversation. In fact, I believe we need to take this conversation one step further and talk about how we work towards reducing reliance on food stamps by transforming the program to one that not only continues to help those most vulnerable but provides a source of job training for them as well. It is time that we end the age old argument of those on the left that say spend more and those on the right that say cut people off and let them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Currently we rely on the food stamp program, food banks, charity, but if we transform this program we will not only reduce fraud, waste, abuse, but reduce the stress on local food banks and above all reduce dependency.

Food banks and pantries will restructure into a Network for Community Nutrition (NCN) and become the hub for those on food assistance to purchase fresh and local food where available, in their community. The USDA who currently manages SNAP will provide a subsidy to individual states to fund the Network for Community Nutrition.  Each community will have an NCN to meet the nutritional needs of those locally that need assistance.

The NCN will be staffed by a collaboration of employees of the State in which they operate as well by people who are out of work. While working at the NCN they will learn new job skills, earn a wage, and reduce their dependence on the NCN. To stock the shelves, each NCN will work with local grocery stores and farmer’s markets to purchase foods that meet established guidelines for health and nutrition such as whole grains, reduced fat dairy products, meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables.  This action reduces the amount of paperwork and regulations on local businesses while still allowing them to compete for the resources offered by the current system.

Qualification standards for families in need will be reevaluated based upon family size, income as well as the debts incurred by each family. The qualification standards will change to ensure each family is receiving the correct amount of benefit so that falsification of application data decreases. Recipients will be issued the electronic benefit card with the qualified dollar amount allotted each month to use to purchase the food items from the NCN.

People of this country have demonstrated a decreasing approval of their politicians in Washington. Washington politicians have demonstrated an unwillingness to let go of partisan political ground. As a result, we continue to find ourselves deficient in policy and unfortunately find a growing number of families in this instance with a deficient source of nutritional food.

The only way to correct this precarious course is by speaking up and offering change, and doing it in a way that applies smart pressure directly to the source of hemorrhaging intelligence. I am offering mine up to you for our conversation. So if you have ideas too, speak up. But don’t stop there.

Look around your community and seek out the decision makers, the influential-types and anyone else you can recruit, and be willing to walk up to them and engage them in a respectful discussion. Heck, you can even take my ideas and use them as your own. I don’t care because I know in the end it will help us make change happen, and in this instance, not only reduce poverty related dependencies, but the worry of even having to be poverty dependent at all.