The news says there are 55 million Americans that are “food insecure”. I think that means they are hungry. That figure includes 17 million hungry children. There are long lines of cars backed up at food banks to receive boxes of food, which raises the question of how can you afford gas and not a meal? Some hard-hearted types would raise a question like that. Maybe they need a car to go to a job that doesn’t pay enough to feed the family. I’m sure each person has a story.
Years ago, I worked for a county social services department, AKA a welfare office. In order to qualify for assistance, you had to disclose all your assets, including the make and model of the car you drove. If the car was too late a model, or valued at over a certain price, you did not qualify. I suppose you were to sell the car, buy a junker, and stay poor spending money on car repairs. The powers that be didn’t want to see you driving around in a late model. Most of the people on welfare were single mothers who relied on food stamps to feed their kids, and, if they had a job, on a car to get to work. There was a saying that women were only a divorce away from welfare. One particularly hard-hearted county welfare director called divorcees “grass widows”, which I was told meant that when they broke up from husbands, they moved across the grass of the lawn to shack up with the guy next door. I still don’t quite understand the concept. There was also a time when county staff had to roll in carts of case applications for assistance to go before the county board who would review each case in public and vote to approve or not. If a county commissioner knew the applicant, or her family, look out. So much for confidentiality. I believe they stopped this practice, not sure whether because of enlightenment or maybe because of some legal action.
One day we presented a request for an increase in welfare funding to the county board. We cited stats on the need, including an increase in hunger. One skeptical commissioner questioned the proposal, noting that it was Spring, and rhubarb was coming up. I suppose this was his way of saying that poor families should forage in the woods for themselves. I’m not sure, but I don’t think rhubarb grows wild in the woods, but rather is grown in gardens by homeowners. I don’t think he was giving permission for folks to raid his garden. But there are mushrooms and dandelions that grow wild. Maybe we should have proposed to hand out free copies of Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus to the applicants and let them figure it out.
Rhubarb is also slang for an argument. On a national level we are engaged in an argument over how much more we should go into debt to fund programs that will address the pandemic, unemployment, and hunger. The new administration is pushing for more, saying it is a crisis that we must address. I think 17 million children would agree. I suppose the alternative is to tell them to forage in the woods but take care to not trespassing on private property.