The issues surrounding who sits at the dinner table – and where they sit – won’t go away tomorrow. However, there is hope depending upon the angle you look at. Sadly, food insecurity increased with the onset of the 2008 financial crisis. But it was this financial crisis that exposed a side of humanity, and the Federal Reserve Bank, that holds hope.
In 1967 John Van Hengle (a grass-roots activist and entrepreneur) founded the world’s first food bank in Phoenix. Van Hengle organized soliciting grocery stores for donations and established a central warehouse where charitable agencies could get food for the hungry.
Van Hengle’s work stirred the hearts of the nation. Folks began giving energy to the vision of helping others eat. Food banking continues to grow in direct proportion to a scarcity of circulating dollars. As the need for food-bank services ratcheted up with the onset of the 2008 financial crisis – so did the outpouring of American hearts. This outpouring is creating a new national consciousness.
Food banking in America is now energized by over 1 million volunteers and some 50,000 charitable agencies hosting a food-program outlet. It is the largest food-chain in the world by number of outlets. Walmart, the world’s largest grocer, has only 4,900 outlets in the U.S. The message is clear: Even though the dollar economy has no “hunger” consciousness, people do. The economic system is getting more heat for being insufficiently people friendly.
Mention the Federal Reserve Bank (Fed) and you’re likely to get looks of confusion or conspiracy outrage. Unfortunately, both confusion and outrage can inadvertently throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s look at a few of the activities the Fed undertook since 2008 that helps underpin what food security we have.
The Fed has engaged in an unwavering focus to lower rates. Most people have more debts than they do savings. Getting less on savings is more than offset by having to pay less on debt. The Fed reports that the household sector in America is juggling close to $14 trillion in debt. Using the mortgage market as an indicator, interest rates have dropped about 3 percent since 2007. A three percent decrease on $14 trillion of debt represents an additional $420 billion each year in the pockets of people that need to eat.
Equally as dramatic is the drop in interest costs on the national debt. Americans paid less interest on $17 trillion of national debt in 2013 than they did on $5 trillion in 1996. This means the Government checkbook, while it is squeezed, still has some capacity to fund food subsidy programs. The federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) contributed another $76 billion in 2013 to keep the American dinner table populated at its current level.
For most of us living, it has never happened that the Fed, the U.S. Government and the citizenry – consciously working to overcome dollar scarcity – came together for the common cause of people eating. This is the only shining star on the horizon – with the potential to grow large enough – to alleviate hunger. A scarcity of dollars translates into a national need for “work for food” opportunities in the field, in food preparation and in restaurants.