Falling Through the Gap
Despite the rise in unemployment and stereotypes about out-of-work welfare moms, most adults on food stamps (and 36 percent of food-pantry users) are working but unable to find jobs that pay a living wage. Things actually got harder for Fedrick when she received a pay raise at her part-time job. "I went from $7.50 to $7.75 an hour, so my cash assistance stopped," Fedrick explains. She now has a full-time job in a day-care center but still doesn't make enough to cover her expenses.
Many families don't realize they could qualify for more help (such as food stamps), or they fall through a gap in the system where they can't pay their own bills but aren't poor enough to qualify for aid. In one 2008 study, 21 percent of children going hungry lived in households with an income higher than the cutoff needed to get the reduced-price lunch and breakfast program at school, says Dr. Poppendieck.
Even when families do qualify for help, obtaining assistance can be difficult. "Our safety net is completely broken," says Mariana Chilton, Ph.D., associate professor of public health at Drexel University and director of Witnesses to Hunger, a research and advocacy project working with families who have experienced hunger. "It's rare to talk to someone receiving assistance who hasn't been mistreated or had critical documents lost. It's so frustrating."