As we all prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, we invite you to read this blog post and take a simple action (see below) to keep your community healthy and keep “the least among us” nourished.
Nearly one in six Tennesseans is unsure of where their next meal will come from. The faces of hunger include new widows suddenly scraping by with a single Social Security check, families with parents working two jobs and still struggling to make ends meet, and the brave men and women who have served our country. If you have helped out at a soup kitchen, donated food to a food drive, or delivered meals on wheels, you get it.
What you might not know is that Federal programs – SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), school meals, and more – make up 95% of food assistance in our nation. Don’t get us wrong, charities are incredibly important. The point is that they can only do their job because of effective and efficient (though underfunded) publicly-funded nutrition program infrastructure that we have built up over the last five decades through strong bipartisan support. If we didn’t have SNAP, the meal gap charities already struggle to fill would increase to four times what it is now.
These federal programs don’t just serve the hungry and bolster the work of charities. They deliver a nearly $2.5 billion stimulus to the state economy every year, create jobs in rural communities, and help keep our farmers growing. And they save money and prevent unnecessary suffering. According to a Bread for the World report, poverty-related hunger leads to $160 billion per year in avoidable healthcare costs and lost productivity. Without federal nutrition programs, this amount would almost surely skyrocket.
Perhaps the most important point to drive home is that during the recession, people who had worked hard their whole lives and never dreamed of using Federal nutrition programs, like SNAP, suddenly found themselves doing just that. It could happen to any of us. If we had capped the funding for SNAP at 2007 levels, the program would have been able to meet half the need during the height of the recession. Our Federal nutrition program infrastructure is our collective assurance that not one American should know the scourge of hunger. We must keep it strong.
That brings us to our request. You have probably seen in the news that Congress is debating tax reform. You may have heard that these reforms include tax cuts that will increase our national deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. There are a lot of reasons that increasing our national debt is a short-sighted policy. One of those is that it will force us to make impossible decisions down the road. Without exaggeration, we could find ourselves as a nation having to choose whether seniors or children will get to eat. Tax policy is complex, but choosing to keep our nation fiscally sound and able to ensure every person is ableto meet basic needs is a simple choice.
Now is the time to contact Senators Alexander and Corker to share your own story. Share from the heart. As these things apply to your experience, share about hunger in your community and the importance of Federal nutrition programs (and other Federal programs) to people you know. Share about how we cannot afford to increase the deficit when we know there is still so much need and that anyone of us could fall on hard times.
An email is good, a phone call is great, setting up a call or meeting with a district staffer is SPECTACULAR! The Senate will be talking taxes right after Thanksgiving weekend so the sooner you reach out the better. Give us a call if you have questions – Keith Barnes, 615-846-4716. We are thankful for your commitment to keeping our nation strong and fiscally sound.
This has been a year of tremendous challenge and almost unfathomable hope. You have certainly read about the challenges: lawmakers repeatedly and relentlessly threatened vital programs for our most vulnerable neighbors, showing disregard for the financial security and health of families, the dignity of older adults, and the nutritional needs of low-income children. And I hope you have also seen what I have seen: that in the midst of these challenges, this year’s countless miracles stand out. Love, compassion, and courage have won again and again. In my 24-year career, I can say with all honesty that I have never been more hopeful about what is possible.
Friends ask us how we refuse to fall into despair. Lord knows we at TJC have been tempted during these chaotic and long days. But we do not despair – not because we are naïve or even particularly optimistic, but because every day we have the privilege of witnessing the power of real human stories. These brave and honest stories break down barriers, inspire hope, and tap into the compassion for our neighbors that nearly all of us share.
Joe Manes is an Iraq war veteran, President Trump supporter, and father of 22 year-old Ashley, who has been quadriplegic since a terrible automobile accident when she was two. When Joe learned about a bill in Congress that would gut Medicaid and put millions of people like Ashley at risk, TJC helped him share his story in a moving Father’s Day op-ed. Joe wrote that Medicaid had saved his daughter’s life by covering services no private insurance company would. He concluded, “Protecting Medicaid is not a Republican or Democratic thing. It’s about American values and being able to count on each other. In combat, we pledge to never leave a comrade behind. Please don’t leave behind people like Ashley.”
When Ashley’s well-being, and that of millions like her, was under threat, it was not policy analysis that ultimately led to the unpopular bill’s defeat. It was a chorus of voices like Joe’s, showing the bill’s impact on real people. TJC was privileged to be there to help Joe and hundreds of others share that voice.
Instead of the fractured, frustrated world I often see when I turn on the news or scroll through my Facebook feed, my days at TJC are filled with people who overwhelmingly believe that Joe and Ashley and all of their neighbors deserve dignity and security, which means access to basic necessities like health, opportunity, and adequate nutrition. They are from every corner of Tennessee, from all political persuasions and walks of life – small business owners, religious leaders, moms. They are all moved by the needs of their neighbors to join with TJC in working for a system that reflects our shared values.
TJC has always lived at the intersection of individual need and complicated systems, and has made an incredible impact by doing so. Hard-pressed families in every part of Tennessee benefit from TJC’s work. Even at the highest levels of nerdy policy analysis or technical legal advocacy, all our work is grounded in our relationships with the families we serve. The more than 1,000 clients we served this year, the 130 trainings we conducted, the millions of people we reached through social media, and the thousands of calls we generated from real Tennesseans to their elected officials, all served to help empower and amplify the voices of real people and support systems that make us proud to be Americans.
TJC has been and always will be a fierce, committed defender of justice and a staunch advocate for our clients. At times, this means invoking the law and opposing systems and policies that are against our values and the needs of our clients. But we always do so by appealing to the light in everyone and recognizing that real power is not found in having the most resources or best legal minds or allies in high places – if that were the case, we would always lose. Real power is in stories like Joe’s that move hearts and minds toward compassion for our neighbors.
In a world of sound bites and tweets, where barriers are pronounced and people are too often reduced to their political persuasion or ideology, we see the universal power of people like Joe to make a difference. Your support allows us the immense privilege to amplify that miraculous power. Whatever happens in Washington, whatever the crisis of the moment in the media, whatever challenges and opportunities our clients and communities face, one thing is certain: with your help, TJC will be there to support families like Joe’s and work toward policies that are worthy of their courage and generosity.
Please support TJC as we champion those values and build a more just, humane, and inclusive community for all Tennessee families. We are grateful beyond words, and in spite of many challenges, we are full of hope.
P.S. Your dollar goes further with a gift to TJC. Over this year, we have secured $31,600 in life-changing services for Tennessee families for every $100 raised. Help us continue to change lives with a gift today.