Get Ready to Help Letter Carriers ‘Stamp Out Hunger’

You can help “Stamp Out Hunger” by joining with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) union on Saturday, May 9, in its 23rd annual food drive—the largest one-day food drive in the nation. Last year, letter carriers collected more than 72 million pounds of food. Since the annual drive began in 1992, more than 1.3 billion pounds of food have been collected and distributed by NALC members and community supporters.

All you need to do is collect canned goods and dry food, such as tuna, canned meat, soups, pasta, rice and cereal, and leave them in a bag or box by your mailbox. Your letter carriers will pick them up as they deliver your mail. Click here to learn more.

After letter carriers pick up your food donations, they will deliver the goods to local food banks, pantries and shelters to help needy families in 10,000 cities and towns in all 50 states and U.S. jurisdictions.

Donations are given directly to local food pantries. While most food pantries get the bulk of their donations around Christmas and Thanksgiving, the NALC drive is done during the spring, when many food pantries are struggling. Also, since many school meal programs are suspended during summer months, millions of children are left scrambling to find alternate sources of nutrition and the food banks are a vital resource for families in need.

Click here to learn more.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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“I Have No Idea How You Are Going to Pull This Off”: Nutrition on A Minimum Wage Budget

“Here’s what my $29.96 bought me,” Rep. John Lesch (DFL-Saint Paul) says into the camera. He then turns the camera to his kitchen floor, where he has laid three meals a day for the entire week. Lesch is one of the Minnesota lawmakers participating in our Minimum Wage Challenge, which limits his weekly food budget at roughly $35.

In the homemade video posted on YouTube, Lesch runs over this meal plan: for breakfast, two eggs and one cup of fruit loops; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Ramen noodles for lunch; and depending on the day, repeating that same lunch for dinner. For a few dinners, he includes a Tostino’s Personal Party Pizza.

“Now keep in mind, this is for one person,” he says. “If you have to raise a family, if you have a child, two children on minimum wage, I have no idea how you are going to pull this off.”

We know that many low-wage workers in Minnesota and across the country do have to care for children. Out of more than 356,000 low-wage workers in the state, about 63,000 have at least one child.

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As he goes over his meal plan, Lesch points out that he has tried to vary his meals day to day–a few tuna sandwiches mixed in with the PB&J, no mayo–but that it’s a pretty repetitive diet. There’s also no fruits or vegetables, save for a few cans of green beans and corn.

“I don’t know how sick of this I’ll get,” Lesch concludes, “or how fat I will get, eating all the MSGs and whatever else is in the Ramen…and all the fat in the pizza.”

The lack of nutrition available on a minimum wage budget struck Moorhead City Councilwoman Heidi Durand as well. “I can’t tolerate another can of condensed soup…I haven’t had fresh fruit or veggies since Wednesday,” she reported, “I know one thing: our minimum wage is not healthy!”

We’ve heard since we were children about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. The calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, folic acid,  and other nutrients in fruits and vegetables are especially important for a child’s development, but also for adults to protect against osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, and even mental conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression.

Durand said she felt the emotional pressure even after just a few days. “[Living on minimum wage] is not emotionally healthy either. There were several moments where I felt completely dependent and helpless and the only thing that got me through was knowing it was temporary.”

The Minnesota legislative session will begin today, February 25. Tell the Minnesota Senate to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2015.

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Winner and Loser of the Week

In a new weekly feature, we’ll be taking a look at the winners and losers of the week in the struggle for the rights of working families. The winner will be the person or organization that goes above and beyond to expand or protect the rights of working families, while the loser will be whoever went above and beyond to limit or deny those rights.

Winner of the Week: Kain Colter and the Northwestern University Football Players

College athletes, who balance a full-time school load with intense athletic workouts are some of the hardest-working people in the United States. Yet the NCAA says it has no responsibility to protect them from potentially deadly injuries, such as concussions, and allows players to lose educational opportunities if they get injured. Colter and a number of his teammates are standing up and saying they deserve better and are attempting to organize a union that would address these and other concerns.

Loser of the Week: Uintah, Utah, Elementary School District Official

A Utah elementary school district official apparently thought the best way to deal with parents who hadn’t given their kids enough lunch money was to order cafeteria workers to give those kids lunches and then take them away and throw them in the trash in front of everyone. Taking food away from children is bad enough, but doing it in a publicly humiliating way is truly despicable. Poverty and hunger matter in the classroom.

Photo by Northwestern Wildcats on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Yes, Marco Rubio, There Is Less Poverty Than There Was 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty and worked with Congress to pass legislation designed to lower poverty levels and mitigate the effects of poverty on America’s families. Not long after the war on poverty initiatives went into effect, and startedshowing significant results, conservatives went on the attack, attempting to weaken, defund or eliminate many of the policies that were working quite well. But the program was so effective that it still helped, and helps, keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. Now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isweighing in on the war on poverty by claiming that it has failed, a smoke screen that he and others are using to continue their agenda to weaken or eliminate the war on poverty.

Two claims are central to conservative arguments that the war on poverty is a failure. The first is tortured logic that goes something like this: “We’ve been fighting the war on poverty for 50 years and poverty still exists, therefore it’s a failure.” Beyond the fact that this level of oversimplification doesn’t belong in a serious conversation about poverty (we rarely “eliminate” problems, we improve the situation as the real world goal), it completely ignores the conservative responsibility for the programs not being as effective as they could be. From budget cuts to added red tape that makes it harder for citizens to participate in lifelines they are eligible for, conservatives have fought for decades to make the war on poverty less successful. To now claim that these lifelines are inherently flawed, as opposed to being sabotaged, is laughable at best.

The second claim relies on a dumbing-down of statistics that would make George W. Bush proud. By the official government poverty measure, the poverty rate in 1964 was 19%. In the latest version of that official number, the rate is 15%. The argument goes that 50 years is a long time and a lot of money to decrease poverty such a small amount. Ignoring the fact that 4% of the population is still millions of people, the official number is flawed. It only includes cash income.  Over the years, more and more anti-poverty programs were moved away from direct cash payments to non-cash benefits and tax credits. So this official measure ignores many of the programs designed to keep Americans out of poverty. A more accurate measure is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for non-cash income. The SPM shows a decline in the poverty rate more than twice that of the official number, from 26% in 1967 to 16% now.

It’s clear that by any valid measurement, the war on poverty has been highly successful, particularly when you look at specific policies and what aspects of poverty they target. Here are a few key numbers that show the success of the war on poverty:

  • Antipoverty programs kept 41 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children.
  • Unemployment Insurance kept 2.5 million Americans out of poverty in 2012.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition assistance Program (food stamps) kept 4.9 million Americans out of poverty, including 2.2. million children.
  • The Earned Income and Child Tax Credits kept 10.1 million Americans out of poverty.
  • Social Security kept 26.6 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 17 million seniors and more than 1 million children.
  • Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and health care subsidies help 150 million Americans get health insurance.
  • The programs have long-term effects, too. Research shows that children who received food stamps in the 1960s and 1970s grew up healthier and were more likely to finish school. At age 19, they were 6% less likely to have stunted growth, 5% less likely to have heart disease, 16% less likely to be obese and 18% more likely to have completed high school.

This isn’t to say that the war on poverty is an unqualified success or that more doesn’t need to be done.  But it is to say that conservative arguments about the war on poverty are highly inaccurate and the policy proposals put for by Rubio and his allies would do the exact opposite of what they claim and would undermine the progress that has been made in the last 50 years. More appropriate solutions to the problems of poverty would roll back right-wing assaults on antipoverty programs and would stimulate job creation and higher wages for working families. But don’t hold your breath thinking that the Marco Rubios of the world will do the right thing.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Hunger Games Are Real

“The Hunger Games” are real. If you’re familiar with the books and movies, or have at least heard of the “Hunger Games” phenomenon, you’re probably aware that the series tackles some pretty serious issues of poverty and economic inequality that hit way too close to home. If you’re not, here’s some background.

“The Hunger Games” takes place in the fictional world of Panem, which is a dystopian North America sometime in the far off future. All the wealth in the country is concentrated in the Capitol and people in the 12 districts are constantly in fear of starvation. Everything the people in the districts produce, whether it is coal, grain, machinery or clothing, is controlled by the Capitol. People are forbidden to hunt or grow their own food, thus relying on the Capitol’s meager grain and oil rations. To punish the people of Panem for District 13′s rebellion (the Capitol wiped out the region in a nuclear war), each year two teenage tributes from each of the 12 districts must sacrifice their lives in an arena where they fight to the death, with only one victor remaining.

While the story is fictional, it reminds us of a lot of the issues surrounding economic inequality we see today. Some sobering facts:

  • Nearly all—95%—of the income gains from 2009–2012 have been captured by the wealthiest 1%.
  • In recent years, the wealthiest 1% have gotten richer and richer, while the median household income is down 8% since 2000.
  • Wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of national income since 1966, while corporate profits are now the largest share of national income since 1950.
  • The federal minimum wage, $7.25, hasn’t risen since 2009. The tipped minimum wage, $2.13, hasn’t risen in two decades.
  • One in 6 people in America are hungry and 1 in 5 children are.

Check out 8 Ways Economic Inequality in America Is Like the “Hunger Games.”

“The Hunger Games” bestseller books and blockbuster films represent a rare opportunity where these issues of social and economic justice are being widely discussed in pop culture and in homes across the United States.

Check out this video from the Harry Potter Alliance:

Disclaimer: Having a union doesn’t guarantee no workplace injuries on the job, but union mines have 68% fewer fatal injuries than nonunion mines.

Working families, union members and leaders are joining the online movement to lift up these issues of economic inequality and poverty using the “Hunger Games” as a jumping off point. Check out oddsinourfavor.org, where you can join the “resistance” and post a photo doing the “salute,” the symbol of solidarity of the working people.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Letter Carriers’ Drive Collects 74 Million Pounds of Food

The Letter Carriers’ (NALC) annual food drive collected 74.3 million pounds of food and was the second most successful in the program’s 21 years. The food was used to restock food banks, pantries and shelters around the country. The total was an increase of 5% over last year and was the highest in a decade.

NALC President Fredric Rolando stressed the importance not only of the food drive, but of the broader service postal carriers provide to their communities in a statement:

This demonstrates in clear fashion the value of the unique postal network, which goes to 151 million addresses six days a week. It also shows the remarkable connection between letter carriers and the communities they serve—a bond that serves the nation well. Letter carriers see firsthand the needs in the communities where we work, and we’re honored to be able to help people in need by leading an effort that brings out the best in so many Americans.

The NALC effort is the largest annual food drive in the United States and this year it touched 10,000 cities and towns in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam.

The drive was successful, in part, because of a diverse group of national partners: Feeding America, Campbell Soup Co., AARP, Valpak Direct Marketing Systems, Valassis/Red Plum, U.S. Postal Service, United Way Worldwide, AFL-CIO, Uncle Bob’s Self Storage, GLS Companies, Source Direct Plastics and the Publix grocery store chain. Postal employees, union members, civil volunteers and Family Circus cartoonist Jeff Keane also assisted in the effort.

‘We could not have accomplished this without the hardworking team of partners we have, all committed to ending hunger in our country,’ said Pam Donato, NALC community services coordinator. The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive never has been more important than in these times, with hunger a growing problem—affecting about 50 million people around the country, including 17 million children and 9 million senior citizens. Pantry shelves filled up through winter and holiday generosity often are bare by late spring. And, with most school meal programs suspended during summer months, millions of children must find alternate sources of nutrition.

The recent natural disasters, such as tornadoes in Oklahoma and Super Storm Sandy on the East Coast, were particularly tough on food supplies this year and states like Oklahoma, Vermont and New Jersey set food collection records in response.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo by scubabix on Flickr

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