Free Essay for Students: Food Stamp Act of 1977 and Homelessness

Published: 2022-03-09
Free Essay for Students: Food Stamp Act of 1977 and Homelessness
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Economics Society
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1869 words
16 min read

To define it simply, homelessness is the state of having no regular, fixed, and guaranteed nighttime residence (Shinn, 2010). Current statistics indicate that no less than four million individuals are homeless annually (Hombs, 2011). On any single night, 564, 708 people cannot find permanent shelter (Shinn, 2010).The general trend is that there is a decrease in the number of people becoming homeless with every passing day. For example, in the year 2017, a total of 33 states and Washington D.C recorded declining statistics of homeless people. However, 16 states recorded an increase in the number of homeless people. Poor people are at the highest risk of becoming homeless. While there are other causes of homelessness, poverty accounts for the highest percentage amongst causative factors. The number of homeless people is disproportionately higher for men than women, with men accounting for 80% of all homeless people (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2016). More than half of all homeless people are aged 50 years and above. In the year 2013 alone, a record two million children were estimated to be homeless. Veterans are also at a higher risk. This is because, at any given year, veterans account for 10% - 15% of the total number of homeless people. Overall, poverty and lack of housing are the chief contributing factors to homelessness. This necessarily means that homelessness and poverty will occur together, in a multifaceted relationship where causation runs both ways. Looking at trends over the years, there has been a general decline in homelessness (though the rate of decline has been generally slow meaning rates remain unacceptably high). This decline can be attributed to the Food Stamp act of 1977 that has sought to feed poor and homeless people. The effect of this legislation will be examined in great detail in later sections of this paper.

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Social Values, Political Ideologies, Social and Economic Conditions Framing Homelessness

Food Stamp Act of 1977 was the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Members of recognized Native American tribes who are eligible for food stamp benefits have the option of receiving food stamps or commodity foods. This can be a good choice for some. For example, a Native American tribal elder eligible for the minimum Food Stamp Program benefit of ten dollars could choose instead to receive 80 pounds of commodity foods. Some tribal organizations, such as the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, have food distribution sites that look much like grocery stores. There was a significant recession in the early 1970s. It was associated with an oil embargo and the collapse of many savings and loan institutions. The Food Stamp Program was large and expensive and suffered major cutbacks due to legislation in 1974 and 1977. By the late 1980s, there was a severe domestic hunger problem. Congress responded by eliminating the sales tax on food stamp purchases and rising limits for allowable resources such as money in a checking or savings account to two thousand for most households.

Food stamp act of 1977 which established national standards of eligibility for the program and eliminated the requirement that recipients pay for their stamps. It was revolutionary and helped to dramatically reduce extreme poverty and severe hunger in the United States. Like any other social issue, homelessness is the outcome of several social, economic and political conditions which are themselves reflective of the prevailing social values. Being a society that is highly individualist, Americans mainly think that every person must fend for themselves. Therefore, there is the general feeling that homeless people have just failed at a personal level and that their failure to find permanent housing cannot be blamed on anyone but themselves. Americans value hard work, independence, and excellence. Therefore, while they may be sympathetic to the plight of homeless people, they think that what people deserve is work, after which they should be able to pay for their housing (Shinn, 2010).

On the other hand, political ideologies have significantly shaped debates and realities on the subject matter of homelessness. While liberals feel that homelessness (and the poverty that causes it) is a social and environmental problem, conservatives disagree sharply, asserting that it is nothing more than an individual one (Williams, 2017). As a result, Democrats have always pushed for increased government expenditure that broadens the safety net. On the other hand, Republicans have rooted for incentive-based initiatives that lure homeless people to work and earn enough to afford housing. It is no surprise that laws passed during different democratic and republican regimes have been different. For example, the 1977 Food Stamp Act was signed into law by the then President Jimmy Carter. The law established the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal aid program that would feed millions of poor and homeless Americans that had low or no income at all. In 2009, President Barack Obama deepened these reforms by signing into law the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act that increased access to healthcare for homeless people.

The homelessness problem is mostly an economic problem, after all, poverty is largely responsible for homelessness, and poverty is an economic problem. For example, the absence of a minimum wage means that even if individuals work, they can hardly earn enough to pay for decent housing. If people working can fail to afford decent housing, those not working can not afford it. Lack of job means no income, which necessarily invites homelessness. There is more: even a relatively well-paying job does not mean that one has escaped homelessness. If the cost of housing is high, one may find themselves homeless even when they earn way above the minimum wage. Housing is determined by the forces of demand and supply, meaning that its availability is a function of equilibrium of economic forces. All this prove the point that homelessness is mostly an economic issue that is caused by two chief factors: poverty stemming from lack of incomes and unavailability (or unaffordability) of housing (Lee, Tyler, & Wright, 2010). It is essential to go further to understand the nature of poverty that may cause homelessness. While studying poverty, emphasis should be placed on disposable income. When this income is either low or non-existent, homelessness will be a default outcome.

The Current Situation

As noted earlier, the rate of homelessness has reduced, but only slightly. This is because the decrease in homelessness continues to unfold at a decreasing pace nationally but not for all states. However, while homelessness is declining in some states, it continues to increase in other states. However, it is important not to underrate the significance of the small decline, especially so because it has happened after massive investments aimed at containing poverty and homelessness (Routhier, 2017). Since the passage of Food Stamp Act in 1977, the federal government has transferred massive resources towards the provision of food for low and no-income citizens. In the year 2016, transfers in the US amounted to seventy billion dollars. This is not a small amount. As a result, forty-four million poor Americans were able to receive assistance totaling to one hundred and twenty-five dollars on a monthly basis. This has had a significant effect on the notable reduction in homelessness. As noted earlier in the discussion on the economics of homelessness, an individual with a lower disposable income will find it increasingly hard to afford decent housing. If such an individual is a recipient of the assistance offered by SNAP, their amount of personal expenses reduces to the extent that it makes economic sense to desire permanent housing. While the Food Stamp Act must be praised for the sizeable reduction in homelessness, it is important not to forget that 0.5 million people are homeless every single night. Major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and the nation's capital account for the majority of homeless people. For example, the most significant beneficiary of SNAP is the District of Colombia where a record 22% of inhabitants are receivers of food stamps. The success of SNAP has implications for social welfare policy in that it demonstrates the effectiveness of transfer programs.

Social Impacts and Consequences

That 564, 708 individuals have no home at any given night is an issue that should worry every single person. This is because of one simple reason: like many other social problems, homelessness has negative externalities. It is not just a problem on its own; it can induce other issues as well. If the problem of homelessness is not arrested with immediate effect, there will be three crucial societal impacts and consequences: a rise in street families deepened poverty and increased disease prevalence. The first point is rather apparent. Chronically homeless people have no option but to raise families in the streets. The assumption that homeless people will delay getting children until they can afford decent housing is misguided. Homeless people may as well see it that they will never be able to afford a home, which means they may plan to live their entire lives in the streets - including raising children there. This will complicate matters as it will serve to increase the number of homeless people, making it harder to deal with the problem in future. Children born in the streets will lack the critical nurturing element that is provided by a well-functioning family, increasing the chances of them becoming deviant in future (Bringle, 2010). The second consequence will be deepened poverty. Homeless people are already poor. If their situation is left unchanged, they will become even poorer. It must not be forgotten that the causation between poverty and homelessness runs both ways, with poverty causing while at the same time being fueled by homelessness. This means that neglecting homelessness could water down the gains made by the Food Stamp Act of 1977. The quest to end homelessness is, therefore, a quest to stop poverty as well.

Research has documented that homeless people are more prone to diseases than the rest of the population. This is because they face harsh weather condition like direct exposure to cold, extreme heat and sunlight. They also face poor sanitation. Failure to address homelessness will, therefore, lead to an increased disease burden. The reason for this is that once homeless people catch diseases, they can quickly spread them to healthy individuals, especially those that are infectious and contagious (Flick, 2007). The end effect will be epidemics that increase the public health burden. Besides the obvious monetary costs, lives could be threatened. This scenario is a perfect example of a negative externality that policymakers must seek to avoid. With many of them lacking insurance, homeless people are not only a health threat to themselves; they endanger the health of the entire populations that they interact with. Any health and social policy that fails to account for this will be ineffective in the long run.

Effective Long Terms Changes

As noted earlier in this essay, homelessness is mostly an economic issue that has two leading causes: poverty and lack of housing. It follows that to contain this problem, in the long run, there must be increased government investments that aim at improving job opportunities while at the same time increasing the supply of housing (Miller, Herzberg, & Ray, 2012). Three main initiatives point out the government's effort to end homelessness. The first one is the 1977 Food Stamp Act's SNAP that aims at feeding the poor and homeless people. The second piece o...

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