Those people should get a job — that’s the snarky comment that inevitably surfaces any time the topics of poverty and government assistance come up.
If only it were that simple.
Last week the Clarion reported on the challenges facing a large number of Kenai Peninsula residents who will see their federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, more commonly known as food stamps, cut by about 5 percent. And as much as some would like us to think the worst of people who receive some form of public assistance, the truth of the matter is that food insecurity is a much more complex and serious issue affecting our community.
Statistics show more than 13 percent of Kenai Peninsula residents face some form of food insecurity. Those affected range from young to old, and the reasons that the food budget may come up short can be just as varied, from unexpected expenses to changes in employment or family circumstances. On the Kenai Peninsula, more than 5,000 people receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
What do those numbers mean? Let’s start with this: there are a significant number of “those people,” and they are members of our community. They are family, friends and neighbors. Our kids go to school together. We shop at the same grocery stores, attend the same churches.
There very well may be a few people milking the system, but the reality is that the issue of hunger on the Kenai is significant. It doesn’t just affect “those people”; in one way or another, it touches all of us. There is a need, and it is much bigger than many of us realize or are willing to admit.