CNN Features LIFT Client as Part of Report on Rising Food Stamps Use in America
On CNN’S The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer reported on the Department of Agriculture recently released statistics showing that currently 1 in 7 Americans – 15% of the country – rely on SNAP and other food assistance programs to make ends meet. That number includes LIFT client Frederick Mack, who has been unemployed for the last 7 months after 35 years working in the food service industry. Despite experience as a cook and manager with some of DC’s most well-known restaurants and catering companies, Frederick has struggled to find work in the down economy and relies on food stamps.
He spoke with CNN correspondent Brian Todd about how he stretches his monthly amount by finding bargains, what he can and cannot buy, how he manages to eat healthy, and how he tackled the daunting process of applying for public benefits.
BLITZER: The jobless numbers only tell part of the story of the serious problems facing the United States right now. Perhaps even more telling, the skyrocketing number of Americans who rely on U.S.- government provided food stamps to keep them from going hungry.
CNN’s Brian Todd has more.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you want a sign of the economic times? Here’s a sign. It’s a food stamp card. More Americans than ever are in this program right now, nearly 46 million.
Experts say that half of America’s kids will have been in the food stamp program between birth and age 18. You want to know how tough it is? Well, you are about to meet a gentleman who lives that life every day.
(voice-over): On a short walk to the grocery store with Frederick Mack in the shadow of the Capitol, a bracing window into how tough life has been in recent years.
FREDERICK MACK, FOOD STAMP RECIPIENT: See right here? One of my daughters, my oldest child, died. Yes, sir. They gave her a bus stop.
TODD: A memorial to his eldest daughter, a community aid worker who died of childbirth complications. Frederick now lives in a transitional home for people struggling to get back on their feet.
Unemployed, he tells me, for about eight months, on food stamps for a year-and-a-half, he symbolizes the staggering rise of Americans in the food stamp program since 2007, a climb of about 70 percent to nearly 46 million people. Advocates who fight hunger say it’s a perfect storm of hardship.
JAMES WEILL, FOOD RESEARCH AND ACTION CENTER: Unemployment went way up and has stayed high. Wages are flat or down for really the bottom half of the population.
TODD: Frederick Mack is trying desperately to get back to his calling. He’s got 35-plus years experience as a cook.
In the meantime, he gets $200 a month in food stamps.
(on camera): Is that enough?
MACK: No, it’s not enough. I have just found out ways how to stretch it.
TODD (voice-over): We duck into a grocery store where he shops. There is a lot in here that is off-limits on your food stamp card.
(on camera): Can’t do it?
MACK: Can’t buy.
TODD: But why?
MACK: Because it’s hot. It’s already cooked.
TODD: Hot and prepared.
TODD: What do you buy most of the time, salad?
MACK: Salad and fruits. TODD: Fruit?
MACK: That’s the cheapest thing you can buy.
TODD (voice-over): We comb through aisle after aisle. Frederick doesn’t buy anything that’s not on sale.
(on camera): Basic stuff here. Toothpaste. What about that?
MACK: Can’t do it?
TODD: Wait. You can’t buy toothpaste?
MACK: Can’t buy toothpaste. You can’t buy soap. You can’t buy deodorant.
TODD: Why not?
MACK: Because if it’s not edible, you cannot buy it.
TODD (voice-over): For those items, you have to use your own money, if you have it.
Frederick says, at 53, first time unemployed, his pride has taken a big hit from this.
MACK: I don’t want to be on it. If I didn’t have to eat, I shouldn’t wouldn’t. But I have to eat to live. And that’s the only way I can — only way I can do it these days. I can’t go around. You know how low it would make me feel to go on the street begging or if I had a sign on my chest saying I need something to eat, help me, I haven’t ate today or help me, I need something to eat?
TODD (on camera): So, this at least prevents you from having to do that.
MACK: Prevents from begging and panhandling. This prevents me from doing that, because I do have a pride. I am a human being.
TODD: As eager as he is to get out of the food stamp program, Frederick says he has got other priorities. He has got to first get out of the transitional home where he is living. And to do that, like so many others, he has got to find a job first. So like tens of millions of other Americans, he will probably be on the food stamp program for a little while longer — Wolf.
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