Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Oregon Governor To Live On Food Stamps

Dear Mr. Kulongoski,

You are an inspiration!

I read today that you and your wife are going to live on food stamps for the next 7 days in observance of Hunger Awareness Week in Oregon, to raise awareness about the difficulty of feeding a family on a food stamp budget, as you begin lobbying Congress against cuts in the food stamp program proposed by the Bush administration.

When I read this my jaw dropped. A politician living on food stamps? Lobbying Congress to care for those less fortunate who need help the most? Governor, let me just say that I would love to live in a state with a Governor such as yourself who governs for the people and by the people.

I live in Los Angeles with my husband and our 2 year old daughter. In recent news there was video footage of a homeless man with no legs who was driven from the hospital to downtown LA by hospital staff, and literally dumped in Skid Row. The video showed the staff pushing the patient out of the wheelchair and leaving him stranded in one of the most destitute and dangerous places. It was inhumane and downright shameful. I was not proud to be an Angelino that day. I'm telling you this because reading about your efforts today was like a breath of fresh air. An elected official who really cares and wants to make a difference. You have my support, and you're someone I would vote for in a heartbeat.

Keep up the good work! And remember - there's still time to make your bid for election day November 4, 2008.

Food Stamps:
  • The Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski will have $21 to buy a week's worth of food — the same amount that the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries.

  • Both he and his wife and his wife, attorney Mary Oberst, will spend just $3 a day apiece on their meals, to match the amount spent by the average food stamp recipient in Oregon.

  • He and his wife are the most-high profile people so far to take part in a food stamp challenge. The goal is to walk the proverbial mile in the steps of those who rely on food stamps to feed a family, to kindle both awareness, and hopefully empathy.

  • The Bush administration has proposed several cuts to the program, among them taking away food stamps from about 185,000 people who qualify only because they receive other non-cash government assistance. The Department of Agriculture budget, as proposed, would also eliminate a program that gives boxes of food to nearly half a million seniors each month.

  • The governor pined wistfully for canned Progresso soups, but at $1.53 apiece, they would have blown the budget. He settled instead for three packages of Cup O'Noodles for 33 cents apiece.

  • At the check-out counter, Kulongoski's purchases totaled $21.97, forcing him to give back one of the Cup O'Noodles and two bananas, for a final cost of $20.97 for 19 items.

Sigman-Davenport, a mother of three who works for the state Department of Human Services and went on food stamps in the fall after her husband lost his job, dispensed tips for shopping on a budget. Scan the highest and lowest shelves, she told the governor. Look for off-brand products, clip coupons religiously, get used to filling, low-cost staples like macaroni and cheese and beans, and, when possible, buy in bulk.

Quote from the Governor:

"I'm gonna probably go back to what I remember in college, Top Ramen and hot dogs," said Kulongoski.

"I don't care what they call it, if this is what it takes to get the word out," Kulongoski said, in response to questions about whether the food stamp challenge was no more than a publicity stunt. "This is an issue every citizen in this state should be aware of."


More about Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski:

  • He lived in a home for boys as a child.
  • After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served a tour of duty in Southeast Asia, returning home to work as a truck driver and a bricklayer in a steel mill.
  • Thanks to the GI Bill, he was able to pursue higher education, and attended the University of Missouri, where he earned both an undergraduate degree and a law degree.
  • At the start of his law career he was a judicial clerk in Eugene, Oregon, and at the end he had established his own law firm.
  • His early successes in representing labor organizations earned him a reputation as a leading labor lawyer.
  • He won the Oregon House of Representatives election in 1974 and served 2 terms.
  • He also ran for the Oregon State Senate, where he served until 1983.
  • He was appointed Oregon Insurance Commissioner in 1987.
  • He led a sweeping reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system, which quickly gained national recognition as a model for reducing employers’ costs while upgrading workers’ benefits.
  • He won the election as Oregon’s Attorney General in 1992.
  • He won a seat as an Associate Justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, a position he held until mid-2001, when he decided to run for Governor.
  • He began serving his 1st term as Governor in January 2003, becoming the 1st Oregon Governor to serve in all three branches of state government—legislative, judicial and executive.
  • He is also a strong advocate of school breakfast and lunch programs. "When the federal government cuts back on them," says Kulongoski, "you're actually depriving children of opportunity to basically have a healthy life and at the same time, to be able to learn while they're in school."
  • He regularly serves food at soup kitchens and helps to unload donations at the state's food pantries.
  • He and his wife, have three grown children, they enjoy backpacking and hiking, and he is an avid fly-fisherman.


More on the Hunger issue and Food Stamp challenge:

(from CBS News)

"It really re-energized me to be so much more conscious of what people are going through," said Sister Mary Scullion, the executive director of a Philadelphia nonprofit that works with the homeless, who did the food-stamp challenge last year. "It's about understanding the limited choices people have, and how money gives you choices." Those who've done the challenge say it can leave you both physically enervated and mentally exhilarated. They say shopping on such a tight budget requires plenty of planning, a reliance on inexpensive staples like legumes, beans, rice and peanut butter, and forgoing more expensive fresh fruit, vegetables and protein. Meeting friends for a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee becomes a nearly unaffordable luxury. Cheating by using staples already on hand, like ketchup or olive oil, is discouraged.

"On the spiritual side, when I did eat, I was more present," said Connecticut state Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, who just finished three weeks on food stamp funds. "Usually I'm watching TV, shoveling things in, not thinking that I am blessed." Like Kulongoski, Harris said, he's lucky to have a car to get to a grocery store and a kitchen in which to prepare food. And like Kulongoski will have to do, he had to resist the free goodies at state receptions and business lunches. The experience has helped him as a policymaker, Harris said, in discussions such as whether to expand the earned-income tax credit in Connecticut. "I personally felt how a few extra hundred dollars in the bank to supplement my nutrition would make a major difference in my life," he said.

Hunger has been a major issue in Oregon, ever since the state was embarrassed by having the country's highest hunger rate in 2000. Hunger groups launched an effort to get more people signed up for food stamps, and the state's ranking fell to 17th.

Karen Wilson, director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition against Hunger, said Kulongoski's support of the food stamp challenge is particularly notable, given the time of year. "People only seem to focus on hunger and food insecurity around the holidays," she said. "People are hungry year-round."

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