Keleigh Green-Patton

Sue Ontiveros: Bill would free more in Illinois from hunger

SHARE Sue Ontiveros: Bill would free more in Illinois from hunger
SHARE Sue Ontiveros: Bill would free more in Illinois from hunger

Jesus is preaching to thousands, and they are getting hungry. But there are only a few fish and loaves of bread available. Jesus doesn’t ask anyone, are you worthy of seafood; he blesses the food and feeds everyone just because they are hungry. There is enough for all.


I find it ironic so many “Christian” lawmakers who seem hellbent on taking seafood from the hungry have forgotten one of the most popular Jesus miracles revolves around seafood.

Across the country, lawmakers have become obsessed with what the poor eat, specifically those who get food through SNAP — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or as people call it, food stamps.

In Missouri, state Rep. Rick Brattin has introduced a bill to limit what recipients could purchase with food stamps and singled out seafood. Brattin — whose website describes him and his family as “devoted Christians” — claims he has seen shoppers use the state’s food assistance card to buy crab legs and filet mignon (he’d ban steak, too). Wisconsin also is trying to figure out how to keep shellfish from those buying with food vouchers.

Say what you will about Illinois, but we’re one step from doing something good for those who are hungry. A bill heading to the governor’s desk for signature would make some 40,000 additional Illinois households eligible for SNAP assistance. (Households of three making some $31,000 would now be included; current maximum is $25,700.)

Disregard myths; working poor get the majority of SNAP assistance, not so-called freeloaders, says Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. They are people who work like the rest of us, according to Maehr.

“These are people doing all the right things,” she says. “And yet when they get to the end of the month, they don’t have enough money to buy food from grocery stores.”

Working poor facing food shortages is a phenomenon of the last decade. Before that, “we did not see what we see today,” says Maehr. Maehr says we’d be surprised who her organization serves. Military veterans, for instance. Older adults and children make up a large part of those without enough to eat. Some 39 percent of the households the Food Depository helps through its programs have at least one child.

People with limited funds often face tough decisions, Maehr says, such as: Do I feed my family or pay the rent? How sad this happens in our land of plenty. Maehr’s data also show the majority receive SNAP benefits for no more than a year. (It’s a lengthy process and people must reapply annually, Maehr points out.)

Recently, Maehr and Keleigh Green-Patton testified before the U.S. House committee on agriculture as it reviews SNAP. Green-Patton told how she was forced to get food assistance when the company she worked for closed. Because of that assistance, she could participate in the Depository’s Chicago’s Community Kitchen training program, and land a better-paying job. Ten years later, her family has purchased a home and is saving to send their kids to college.

Food stamps often are described as a safety net. Green-Patton told the committee she sees them more like a “trampoline — bouncing my family back into work and a brighter future.” Good for Illinois on seeing the value of extending a hand to working households who, with this extra food, might be able to bring better days to their families. In the long run, all of us benefit.


Twitter: @sueontiveros

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