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The War We Need: One in Five New Yorkers Used Emergency Food Aid Before 9.11, And Now Its Worse

29 November 2001

President Bush used a traditional Thanksgiving visit to a soup kitchen -- and new holiday TV ads -- to prod Americans last week to "dig a little deeper in their pocket" for neighborhood charities left wanting in the rush to aid terror victims. "I hope Americans will not substitute the gifts they've given in the aftermath of September 11 for neighborhood groups," said George W.

There's no question, local charities are in trouble. Post 9-11, donations are down and needs are up and nowhere is the confluence of crises worse than in New York.

The city's largest food bank, Food for Survival, took a survey of the soup kitchens it serves in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and found that 64 percent of the people receiving free food in New York were taking donations for the first time. "Most of these first-time clients were single mothers who needed emergency food because they had lost their jobs in the attack," Lucy Cabrera, the president of the food bank, told the New York Times.

In the aftermath of the attacks, New York has -- officially -- lost over 100,000 jobs, and with them, nearly that many health benefits. The city's jobseekers join a national line on which some eight million Americans stand right now, and that's just those that have been officially counted.

But it was bleak around here before any terrorist attacked, unless you call the shredding of the social safety net an act of terror.

Before Sept. 11, more than 1.5 million New Yorkers, including 510,000 children, already relied on soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters to avoid going hungry. That story ran briefly, in the papers, back in August.

Mayor Giuliani is proud of having "shrunk" the welfare rolls by half. The City Bar Association, in its August report, noted that public assistance rolls dropped about 45 percent from where they stood in 1995, to 497,113 last July. During the same time, the number of people who in the course of a year obtained at least some emergency food relief tripled. 1.5 million equals one out of every five of us in New York. The number of homeless New Yorkers using the shelter system hit 29,000 -- an all-time high --- before September 11.

Bush tells Americans not to "substitute" their giving. We're to dig a little deeper to help our neighborhoods in need. But without debate, there was federal money for carpet-bombing and bunker-busting, dollars for daisy cutters and aircraft carriers, cash for deployment of special forces and Marines -- some 1,000 new ground troops were deployed in Afghanistan just this week.

The administration tells us we'll be paying something in the region of $1 billion a month for their logo-rich War on Terrorism.

That doesn't count the cost of rounding up those who may have committed the crimes. Racial profiling is expensive, especially when local police forces won't do the work. We'll have to pay the feds to throw the dragnet. Then there are those military tribunals -- there may be some cost cutting on defense attorneys, juries and appeals, but "intelligence" never comes cheap, no matter how poor the return. Almost all we know about the CIA's secret "black budget" is that it never runs into the red.

The President's War on Terrorism doesn't depend on private charity. Our pockets are picked to pay for that war. But how about the terror of hunger? We the people could do with a war on that. Call it the people's war against poverty. In that war, we'd have the money we need to combat hunger and homelessness. Let the Pentagon hold a bake sale.

Laura Flanders
Published by © 2001

Index page on Response to attacks in US


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