the Feds (should) Feed Families

“Feds Feed Families”. A key responsibility of the Federal Government is to assist those who struggle to make ends meet but occasionally come up short. That’s not what the Feds Feed Families campaign is about, though. No, it is campaign to encourage employees of the Federal Government to make individual contributions to food banks, with no dedicated expenditures of Federal funds beyond the tax deductions that are available to those employees who are fortunate enough to have bought a house and thus come out ahead if they itemize deductions.

It is well known that government employees are paid less than industry employees with comparable qualifications. The tradeoff is that government employees are supposed to enjoy more generous benefits and greater job security. Under the Obama Administration, Federal employees were subject to a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments so that Obama could pay for his extension of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. When the freeze was lifted, the adjustment was modest — remember that this Administration expected Social Security recipients to make do with buying lower quality goods when prices rise. Now, under the Trump Administration, Federal employees are worried about job cuts, or if they keep their job, facing having to do more with less.

How unreasonable, then, to expect Federal employees to shoulder the responsibility of providing for less fortunate participants in the economy. In the wealthiest country in the world, which has seen steady economic growth for many years, John Boehner’s excuse that the Federal Government is broke is ridiculous. The money is out there, but the Government is committed to not using it.

To be fair, employees of the USDA have access to harvests that are not meant for sale, and these are included in the Feds Feed Families campaign, a praiseworthy effort to prevent food waste. Also, there is a procedure for employees with backyard gardens to donate their excess bounty to food banks, for which they are given a receipt for the cash equivalent of the weight of the produce donated, once again a tax break to those who can afford a house.

However, in a perverse twist to an already perversely named program, employees who want to make cash donations are discouraged from giving them directly to food banks. Charities often encourage donations of cash over goods because they can use the cash to leverage a higher value of goods than the donor could purchase with the amount of the donation. Instead of this, the employees are directed to make “virtual donations”, whereby they find a food retailer that is capitalized enough to offer online shopping, pay for some food, and direct that it be donated to a food bank. In this way, wealthy food retailers make a profit on employee donations. Given the pervasive wage-depression efforts of big food sector corporations, the donations will feed the forces that exacerbate food insecurity at the same time that they feed the food-insecure.

Individual charity will never fulfill all the needs of struggling families, especially when it becomes a vehicle for enriching the wealthy. The solution is economic equity. The Feds — meaning the Federal Government — should take responsibility for the well-being of the people.

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