Detroit food stamp recipients speak

By our reporters
7 May 2011

Earlier this week, the US Department of Agriculture issued a report saying that a record number of Americans are receiving government-paid food stamps to help them feed their families. According to the report, one in seven US residents—or more than 44 million—are receiving federal food assistance due to high levels of unemployment, including long-term joblessness, and the growth of poverty resulting from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. (See “One in seven Americans receiving federal food assistance.”)

In Michigan, 860,000 jobs have been wiped out over the last decade. There are over 2 million food recipients in the state, roughly one in five. Earlier this year, the state tightened eligibility requirements to throw 20,000 college students off the program.

Detroit has been the hardest hit, losing half of its population since 2000, due to the decades-long shrinking of the auto industry, which culminated with the bankruptcy and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. While the auto companies are making record profits—and paying top executives multi-million-dollar salaries, residents in the Motor City face conditions of destitution akin to the Third World.

By 2013, one out of four people in the region won’t know where two of their daily meals will come from, according to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. In 2009, there were 706,000 people hungry in Metro Detroit; by 2013, 952,000 people could be in need.

The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) is where workers go to apply for cash assistance programs like Family Assistance Programs (FIP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), disability benefits and food assistance, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

Early Friday morning, workers outside the DHS in northwest Detroit related their circumstances to WSWS reporters.

Johnny and Lasaunya Staley

“I worked in construction and I have been laid off more than two years,” Johnny Staley said. “My unemployment benefits are exhausted. The job situation is very hard. The recession is not over. That is crap. It is getting worse.”

His wife Lasaunya added, “With his unemployment benefits being exhausted we have only one income. I am disabled and receiving SSI benefits of $700 a month, and our rent is $500. Add that up. It is hard. We have to chip off here to put a little there. We are on a shutoff plan paying $139 a month on our utilities.”

She continued, “Cutting food stamps will only make this situation worse. It will mean a lot more hungry folks. Now you have to stretch it through the month to make it last.

“It is getting worse and worse as time goes on. People are losing their houses. That’s ridiculous. Now you have all these homes selling for little or nothing. But if you buy a home, you don’t have the money to repair it.

“The politicians are not helping the situation. They are hurting people, not solving problems.”

A retired Chrysler worker waiting for a family member outside the office said, “The CEOs make too much money. With all the millions they make there should be a ceiling. They should give that extra money to charity. That Ford executive [Alan] Mulally got $60 million. That man already has money. What are you going to do with $60 million? It makes me mad.

“My son worked at a Chrysler plant outside Chicago. He got word that he was going to be laid off and put in a pool. Everyone is feeling the pinch. It seems like you have to shell out more money than is coming in.”

Jackie, a laid off auto parts worker talked about her experiences, “It is getting out of hand. I hate it. I am ready work. My unemployment benefits have been exhausted, and I am staying with my sister. We need jobs.

“I am fed up with both sides, the Republicans and Democrats. It is like a tug of war. These wars are terrible. I would like to see the troops come home.”

Lashonda Johnson

Lashonda Johnson, was laid off in 2009 after working 10 years at Budco, a marketing and servicing contractor for the auto companies. “A new manager bought the building and laid off those of us who had been there for years. When I got laid off I went to school for training to be a medical assistant. I graduated and I’m out here still looking for a job.

“I got on unemployment in 2009, and they cut me off in January. I have two kids—14 and 15—who are in school. I get food stamps, plus the little money that they give me. But $493 is not paying my bills. My rent is $650. I can’t pay my DTE Energy bill. I got shut off twice and I just got another notice.”

RoyRoy Page

Roy Page told the WSWS, “I have been unemployed for three years now. I was a chef at John Cowley’s, a three-star restaurant in Farmington Hills. When the recession first started they laid off a couple people. I was the first chef to actually go.

“I’m unemployed and on disability because I’m on dialysis now. I got a little sick after I got fired. So now I’m just trying to make it. You know, it’s hard. There are no jobs out here. I have three kids and a wife. It’s terrible out here.

“And everybody wants to tell you we’re recovering from a recession. So where’s the jobs?”

Page continued, “I don’t think the government is really concerned about the middle class or lower class people. They’re more concerned about the people that already have the money.

“The government needs a total restructuring, in my opinion, because no one cares for the little people. There is no one out here fighting for us. They might say they’re fighting for us, but they’re not.

“I voted for Obama. It was like the better or the lesser evil to choose from. He might have gotten all the black votes because he was partly black. I don’t really see where he’s fulfilled any of his promises. He’s just like the rest of them to me now—just a politician.

“We are trying to go up, but all we wind up is going backwards. Somebody has to do something. Something has to be done. We need to just totally restructure our government. That’s what I feel.”

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