With Thanksgiving now just hours away, most Americans are busy preparing for their most elaborate meal of the year. Conversations at home and around the office are focused on food; we’re all talking about pie recipes or that timeless canned-versus-fresh-cranberry debate.
But while this is the beginning of a joyful holiday season for some of us, it is a painful time for the millions who are struggling to feed their families. And there are more hungry Americans than ever. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its most recent data on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. These numbers show that over 42 million people—14% of the country—rely on the SNAP. Use is up nearly 60% since the beginning of the recession, as families that have never before relied on government assistance now view food stamps as a lifeline. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a sobering trend of 24-hour grocery chains experiencing a “midnight rush” on the first of the month, minutes after electronic food stamp cards are replenished and families can afford to stock their pantries again. As one Wal-Mart executive noted, “The only reason someone gets out there in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it, and they have been waiting for it.”
While food stamps are the most popular assistance, largely because they do not have an age limit, SNAP is not the only program that has grown to meet the needs of newly poor Americans. The federal WIC Program for women, infants, and children saw its annual enrollment edge up 7% nationally last year. The National School Lunch Program has seen participation reach record levels, not only for free and reduced-price lunches, but also for newer programs to provide breakfast, after-school snacks, and summer meals. Here in Washington, D.C., where over one-fifth of the population is on food stamps, the D.C. Public Schools recently began serving three meals a day to students in an effort to improve access to nutrition and curb hunger.
I share these facts not to cast a shadow on your own Thanksgiving celebration, but to remind readers that many of our neighbors are experiencing yet another season of hunger. But there are steps that we can take to combat hunger in our own communities. First, the Child Nutrition Bill is stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, having passed the Senate. While the Senate chose to fund part of the bill by proposing to cut future food stamp benefits – a short-sighted decision at best – advocates are still supporting the legislation because the White House has pledged to make sure the potential food stamp reductions never go into effect. Please call your House members next week and ask them to pass the Child Nutrition Bill immediately, now that they have had their Thanksgiving dinners. Second, your local food pantry or shelter may need volunteers during the holidays. Demand at pantries has surged this year. Finally, take the opportunity of having friends and family gathered around the table to bring up some of these important issues. You’ll be thankful that you did.
Today, Senator Dick Durbin, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, held the first hearing in eight years on the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, or the Women’s Rights Treaty), and the first ever in the Judiciary Committee, as opposed to the Foreign Relations Committee. Equally importantly, governmental testimony was offered not just by the State Department, but also by the Justice Department, discussing the importance of ensuring women’s rights not only abroad, but here at home. These are important steps in emphasizing that ensuring human rights is about leading by example at home as much as taking strong positions abroad.
Much of the hearing was devoted to the importance of the latter – and indeed, the impact of ratification of the treaty on our ability to lead abroad on human rights should not be underestimated. Unfortunately, the testimony from both Senator Durbin and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Samuel Bagenstos gave too much away on the domestic impact of the treaty. Senator Durbin said, “we don’t need CEDAW to protect women here,” and AAG Bagenstos emphasized that the package of Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations submitted with the treaty for ratification would ensure no American law would have to be modified, and the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee would not bind us.
We do need CEDAW to help protect women in the U.S. Read more »
I have a friend, Al, who served in the U.S. military for several years. This was decades ago, but he can often be seen wearing a VFW jacket or a ball cap commemorating one of the wars in which he served.
I met Al in a homeless shelter. He’d struggled with homelessness on and off for five years, and he could never quite seem to make it through the Veterans Administration bureaucracy to get the benefits he needed to stay housed. Until recently.
Through the perseverance of the shelter’s dedicated staff and volunteers, and through new outreach by the VA, Al and his son now live in a townhome, sheltered from the elements. He no longer has to curl up on the church steps where he’d slept for so many nights.
Nearly 1 in 4 people experiencing homelessness in the United States is a veteran. And these are not all Vietnam or Korean War vets; veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, including female veterans, are finding themselves on the streets.
Veterans are a big focus in the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness’s new federal plan to end homelessness. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki has made a commitment to end veteran homelessness in the next 5 years.
On Tuesday, the Interagency Council held a webcast on veteran homelessness. You can view it here to learn more about what the federal government plans to do about this tragedy.
I have a photo on my desk of Al to remind me why it’s so important to persevere in our efforts to end homelessness. As we observe Veterans Day this year, we at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty are deeply aware of the injustice of homelessness among those who have served our country in the military. We remain committed, as always, to work toward a United States where homelessness is a thing of the past – for everyone.
-Whitney Gent, Development & Communications Director
“While our work in Geneva is done, our work here at home is just beginning.”
Eric Tars, human rights program director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has just returned to the U.S. from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. He brings back news of three key outcomes of the process:
1. Thousands of American advocates have now been better educated in human rights standards – which they can use to help make human rights a reality at home.
2. Dozens of government officials, many of them in high positions in the federal government, have been educated as well. They now have an increased awareness of human rights standards and understand they must play a role in implementation.
3. There has been a substantial change in dialogue around human rights in the United States through this process.
The next review won’t occur for another four years. In the meantime, we’ll be working hard to hold the government accountable to the Human Rights Council’s recommendations, so that the human right to housing can be realized in the United States.
An update from the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva -
Other countries are demanding that the United States take a rights-based approach to issues like housing and education. More than 3/4 of Americans believe that housing is a human right, but the U.S. government does not view these as enforceable rights, and State Department representatives did little to respond to the concerns of UN member nations at today’s review.
Eric Tars: “Neither the economic crisis nor the foreclosure crisis…were addressed at all by the U.S. presentation today. The government needs to do much more to ensure that it is taking these rights seriously.”
This morning was the main event at the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, where the U.S. is being held accountable to its human rights obligations by the Human Rights Council. You can watch a webcast of the Review here.
Eric Tars, our human rights program director, participated in a side event yesterday on treaty ratification. To see what advocates from across the U.S. are saying about human rights, check out Eric’s video blog:
The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) holds the U.S. accountable to its human rights obligations. Day 3 continued important testimony on human rights violations taking place right now in the U.S., and other countries are clearly taking notice – they’re submitting more and more questions on the issues mentioned in advocate testimonies.
Eric Tars, reporting from Geneva:
And see the full housing rights panel testimony, from Tuesday, here:
The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR) holds the U.S. accountable to its human rights obligations. Today was the main event for housing rights issues in the UPR process. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty’s own Eric Tars presents testimony in today’s video blog update from Geneva.
This week, Human Rights Program Director Eric Tars is in Geneva, Switzerland for meetings of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first ever Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. The UPR holds the U.S. accountable to its human rights obligations. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been an active part of the UPR process, working to draw attention to widespread violations of the human right to housing right here in America.
Each day this week, we’ll be posting Eric’s video blogs. Let us know what you think!