September 24, 2022 Francis Menton @ Manhattan Contrarian
As you may know, the Biden Administration is planning to hold its big “White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health” this coming Wednesday, September 28. Apparently, we are to believe that “hunger” is and remains a significant problem today in the United States. Thankfully, we have President Biden and his many minions hard at work on the job, with a promise to finally end this scourge of human hunger once and for all. According to the announcement of the conference, “The Biden-Harris Administration has set the goal of ending hunger . . . by 2030.”
But wait a minute — hasn’t hunger in the United States already been ended? I seem to remember multiple prior government promises to end hunger in America, each of them followed by massive funding, and/or increases in prior already-massive levels of funding to achieve the goal. Are we only now learning that none of these prior efforts worked? If not, that would represent a huge failure of the government bureaucracies that had been charged with dealing with and solving this problem. Those same bureaucracies are still in place today, spending tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars annually and, if we are to believe President Biden, failing miserably in their prime responsibility of ending hunger. Shouldn’t those bureaucracies be held accountable for that failure?
It was May 6, 1969 — I was a freshman in college — when President Richard Nixon delivered his big address to Congress calling on them to “end hunger in America.” Excerpt:
in the past few years we have awakened to the distressing fact that despite our material abundance and agricultural wealth, many Americans suffer from malnutrition. . . . That hunger and malnutrition should persist in a land such as ours is embarrassing and intolerable.
In his big address, Nixon proposed a thorough revamp of the various then-existing federal food programs, all designed to be sure that sufficient food got where it was needed to “end hunger.” According to the text of the address, the program revisions that the President was recommending would add approximately $1 billion per year to a pre-existing food distribution budget of about $1.5 billion per year, for a total of about $2.5 billion per year. (According to this CPI-based inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $2.5 billion in 1969 dollars would translate to close to $20 billion in 2021 dollars.). Nixon then followed up on these big plans by holding his own “White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health” in December 1969., where he “fervently urged that hunger in America must be eliminated.”
Ronald Reagan became President in 1981. By that time, federal spending on food and nutrition programs had about doubled from the 1969 figure, to around $40 billion (in 2021 dollars.). Yet the press contained persistent reports of Americans going hungry, in spite of all the spending supposedly designed to prevent that from happening. In August 1983 Reagan created a Task Force to figure out how that could be, and issued an interesting Memorandum to the Task Force. Excerpt:
I have seen reports in the press in past weeks of Americans going hungry. I am deeply concerned by these stories. . . . At the same time, I admit to being perplexed by these accounts because, the fact is, federal law guarantees that every poor person with an income at or below 130% of the poverty level is eligible to receive free food stamps. Additional federal aid includes free school lunches, free school breakfasts; the Women, Infants and Childrens program, and numerous other federal programs. If the poor, who are eligible by law for this help, are not receiving it, then something is wrong.
But assertions that hunger persisted in America continued. Barack Obama was the President who really believed in federal food programs as the route to “end hunger,” and who pressed that goal throughout his campaign and then his time in office. As a candidate in 2008, Obama presented hunger in America as a continuing and serious problem, and pledged that it would be ended on his watch. From the Food Research & Action Center, October 2015:
In the fall of 2008, then-candidate barack Obama pledged that as President he would aggressively tackle hunger in America and eliminate childhood hunger.
Spending on federal food and nutrition programs had reached approximately $60 billion (2021 dollars) by the time Obama entered office, but then the spending really took off. The spending reached a peak of over $120 billion in 2015 before falling a bit to just under $120 billion by the time Obama left office. Here is a chart of federal food and nutrition program spending from 1980 to 2021, from the US Department of Agriculture:
In an early post on this blog from April 2013, I recounted how the federal government during the Obama administration aggressively recruited people to sign up for the food stamp program.
But Obama was a complete amateur compared to Biden. With the excuse of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the vehicle of his blow-out spending bills, Biden has taken federal food and nutrition spending to incredible new heights. Here is text accompanying that chart from the DOA:
Federal spending on USDA's food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $182.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2021, 49 percent more than the previous high of $122.8 in FY 2020. Spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also reached a new high and increased by 44 percent from FY 2020 to FY 2021.
So in just Biden’s first year in office, federal food and nutrition spending soared by some $60 billion, which is about the entire level of such spending at the time Obama first took office less than 14 years ago.
According to the latest from the Census Bureau here, in 2021 there were about 37.9 million Americans deemed to be “in poverty” by the official measure. As discussed here many times, the number of people deemed “in poverty” by the official measure is a wildly inflated figure, ginned up by systematically excluding from the metric well over $1 trillion of annual in-kind distributions from the government, not the least of which is all federal food and nutrition assistance. Still, if you credit this figure of 37.9 million people “in poverty,” it would mean that the federal government in fiscal 2021 distributed some $4815 of food and nutrition aid for each and every one of them, or $19,261 for a family of four.
And now we are told that that enormous generosity by the American people still did not fix the problem. So the White House will hold a new big conference, undoubtedly to give every advocate a platform to come and demand yet more and more spending.If you’re wondering how it could be possible to spend the incredible sum of $182.5 billion in one year on food and nutrition programs in American without eliminating hunger, one potential answer can be found in the recent series at PowerLine about the Minnesota Feeding Our Future scandal. According to recent federal indictments, scammers in this one incident stole well over $200 million in federal food aid and used it mainly to buy luxury goods and real estate for themselves.
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