Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Prayers

Although the modern Memorial Day weekend is filled with bar-b-ques, fishing trips and family gatherings, it was not implemented as a day of celebrations.  Memorial Day is a day to remember and memorialize the men and women of our armed forces who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms.

Today, I'd like to offer a prayer for the families of our nation's fallen heroes and a prayer of protection for those currently serving.
To those mourning the loss of your loved one I pray John 14: 27, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
To those currently serving I pray Psalm 121: 7,8, "The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul.  The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore."

New Life on the Homestead

So much has been happening out here on the homestead.  Our days are long and busy.  Recently, my sister-friend, Mrs.A, came up for a very over-due visit.  Although we talk on the telephone several times each week, it has been THREE long years since our last face to face visit.  I hope the highlights of her visit were enough to outweigh her cancelled return flight which left her stranded for 12 hours in a strange city ... and that was after a four hour drive to the airport!  By the time she returned home to east Texas, the poor girl was completely exhausted.
When one lives on a homestead there is always much to do.  Our to-do lists outweigh the number of hours in each day.  Despite conveying to my health-care professionals that I live on a farm and thus get lots of exercise, they don't seem to believe me.  They continually tell me that I need to make an exercise routine a priority and then proceed to provide me with pamphlets, web-site addresses, and such that should help me implement a routine.  My only thought to this advise is, "I work a solid 15-17 hours everyday of the week, much of that work physical labor - am I suppose to "exercise" in my sleep?"  My dear Mrs.A has an activity meter app on her smart phone.  As she worked along side me during her visit, she used that activity meter every day.  I am so glad she did, because that little gadget confirmed what I've been trying to communicate to my health-care professionals.  I am an active person.  I get lots and lots of exercise everyday.  Mrs.A works very hard at her home in Texas.  She is responsible for all the household chores, all the yard work, the pool maintenance, errands and all other home management.  She also maintains a consistent exercise routine.  She is so dedicated to her exercise routine, that she packed one of her work-out videos for use during her visit with us.  Needless to say, each and everyday was filled with so many chores and responsibilities she never had an opportunity to work-out with her videos.  However, according to her activity meter, her muscles, and sleep pattern, there wasn't a need for her work-out routine.  Her activity meter consistently recorded almost twice the activity level she achieves on a daily basis when at home.  Miles of walking to and from barns and pastures, manually lifting and hauling hay, hoeing, raking, squatting, bending, stooping, lifting, pulling, pushing, everyday for several hours each day was as much or more exercise then her trainer and workout videos instruct for a healthy lifestyle.  I must admit that she didn't get the "cardio" workout she normally would have, but that is because the goats are currently in the kidding barn.  Had we been turning them out, she'd had an opportunity to run along side them every morning and evening while they were herded to and from pasture - running, that's considered cardio, isn't it?  Thank you Mrs.A for bringing that smart phone exercise app and using it ... next month when my doctor asks me about my exercise routine - I'm going to tell him all about it.  Hey, I've a great idea ... why don't you could come up and tell him for me - we'd get another visit!  I loved having my dearest sister-friend up for a visit, I've cried everyday since she left because I miss her so much.
May is the month of newborn farm animals on our homestead.  Only days before Mrs.A's arrival, we found our first set of twin kids in the pasture.  Since then all the goats have been sequestered in the kidding barn and in the past two weeks we've added 13 more kids to our herd, 8 bucklings, 7 dolings.
Mama and twins (bucking and doling) less than an hour old.

Using a sled to transport the kids and coax mama to the barn.

Here's a close up of the still wet twins.

This is TC.  Although she was a twin, she was the runt.
She was so small and weak that Mrs.A and I had to hold her
up so she could reach mama's teat.  Within days she was strong
enough to feed herself.  We are happy to see her growing
so fast.

This little colt was born 5 days ago.  We've yet to decide on a barn name. 
Farmer Boy likes the name Gator ... Do you have any suggestions?
Farmer Boy hatched a few eggs again this spring.  11 of the 13 have survived
and are now big enough to be integrated into our mature flock.

Bob, Richard and Mini Mouse are growing.  We built a free field shelter
 for them out of extra tee-posts, pallets, and scrap plywood.  Beautiful
outbuildings and pretty landscaping are important to humans - not livestock.
Besides plenty of feed and clean water, the animals just want a clean and
dry place that keeps them safe from predators.

I know many of my readers are animal lovers.
If you think of it, please pray for our beautiful palomino mare, Blondie.  After
exercising her yesterday, Farmer Boy turned her back out to pasture.  At feeding
time we noticed her limping on her front left leg/hoof.  After examination, we
did not see any swelling or cuts and abrasions, nor feel any fever.  She does not
indicate pain when pressing on or moving her leg, shoulder or hoof.  However, she is
 in obvious pain when she tries to stand on it.  Yesterday evening was rainy and we
suspect she may have slipped on wet grass or in mud and possibly pulled a
 muscle or tendon.  Farmer Boy is very upset about her injury.
 Please pray she heals up quickly.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The $29.00 Food Stamp Challenge

I'm sure many have seen the articles circulating about how the rich and famous are challenging each other to eat for an entire week on just $29 per person per week - the average benefit allotted to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients.  So far, I think the rich and famous are failing miserably.

The thoughts and comments of the general public regarding the rich & famous' "$29 Food Stamp Challenge" seem to range from excessive self pity by some receiving SNAP benefits to mean & hateful attitudes by some paying taxes to support SNAP and everything imaginable in between.  After reading a few comments regarding these articles, I again found myself very grateful to have grown up poor and without government assistance.  Because of a lack of finances, I learned through the everyday lifestyle of my family how to be resourceful, how to make a dollar last, how to stretch the food in the pantry, and make do with everything else.

Being from the south we eat southern cuisine.  Being country folks we eat country cuisine.  Southern and country cuisines are generally cooked from scratch using readily available basic ingredients and are usually very economical.  Until last year, I fed our family for an average of $21.00 per week per person.  Because of last year's garden and livestock, our current grocery bill has been reduced to less than $12 per week per person.  We have always kept our grocery budget well below the national average SNAP benefit, currently $29 per person per week.

Through the children's 4-H club we've also volunteered at our town's local food bank.  There are some startling facts concerning food resources for the poor that I've learned from volunteering at the local food bank.  I'm going to share these cold hard facts.  Just like the comment section from the various news articles covering this topic, this information may bring about feelings of anger, sympathy, self-pity, etc. from some folks reading my blog.  All I ask is that all comments, whether good, bad or indifferent, be kept polite and tactful.

There are four basic categories of clients that enter our local food bank. 

1.  The low-income (aka, the working poor), who make too much to qualify for benefits but significantly less than the national household average of $51,939 annually.  For a family of four, $31,008 annually is the cut off point for SNAP benefits.

2.  The underfunded senior citizen.  Generally, these folks have worked a lifetime, many beginning their working lives as young as age 12, paid a lifetime of taxes and attempted to live a quiet, peaceful and responsible life.  Unfortunately they did not, or could not, adequately save enough to support the high cost of medical care they find themselves currently subject to.  The majority of their social security and retirement incomes are eaten up by large medical costs.

3.  The part-time low wage earner who qualifies for SNAP benefits.  Although these folks work, many don't seem especially motivated to further their education, work experience or seek full-time employment.

4.  The multi-generational, unemployed, full-time welfare recipient.  Sadly, these folks have accepted welfare poverty as the best they can, or want, to achieve from life.

I'll begin a description of my personal experiences from my town's local food bank with the disparity of the first category, the working poor.  Remember, the working poor are those families who earn one cent or more over the maximum eligibility requirements for SNAP. (a family of 4: $31,008).  These families do not qualify for SNAP, free breakfasts & lunches through the public school system, WIC, or government commodities from the local food bank. 

(Oh! here's where I should probably explain the government commodity aspect of the food bank.  Government commodities are food stuffs donated to the food bank by the US Department of Agriculture.  Each month a semi-truck from the USDA full of everything imaginable arrives at our food bank. About 1/3 of the trailer is unloaded and, literally, packed into our tiny food bank.   It delivers frozen meats, canned fruits and vegetables, boxes of cereals, dairy products, packages of flavored pasta and rice mixes, etc.  Federal law prevents non-SNAP clients from receiving government commodities.)

I am known for attempting to educate others on maintaining a reasonable grocery bill.  And thus, I'll remind all that many popular financial advisors such as Suzy Orman, Dave Ramsy, Larry Burkett, suggest a family spends no more than 13% of their annual income on food.  With that in mind:

**A working poor family of 4 earning $31,008.01 annually (1 cent more than the maximum income allowed for SNAP benefits), should not spend more than $4,031 annually OR $335.92 monthly OR $77.51 weekly or $19.38 per week per person for groceries.  A reasonable grocery budget for these non-qualifying families is only 66% of the average SNAP benefit, showing a family of 4 must earn $46,400 annually before they can comfortably budget $29 per week per person for food.
**When a working poor family of 4, that does not qualify for SNAP benefits, arrives at our local food bank, they must go to the end of the line. Because our food bank accepts USDA commodities and private donations, federal law mandates SNAP clients with dependent children are served first.  Non-SNAP clients are served last, regardless of their situation. Federal law also prohibits non-SNAP clients from  receiving any government commodities.
**Working poor families do not qualify or receive other free food resources such as free breakfasts and lunches for children through the public school or WIC benefits for children under age 5.
**Because the SNAP clients go first and are allowed to select from the private donation area in addition to USDA commodities,  non-SNAP clients have been turned away from the food bank because the SNAP recipients gleaned all the private donations and there wasn't any food left for non-SNAP clients.

Next, I'll share how the retired senior citizen, eligible for SNAP benefits, are served:

** Because of social security & retirement incomes the average senior citizen receives only $58 per month / $686 annually in SNAP benefits.
** Although they qualify for government commodities, the USDA regulations mandate a very limited quantity and selection is donated to senior citizens.  We literally fill a box for our senior citizen clients, they do not have the option of "shopping" the commodity section of the food bank.
 **Because senior citizens do not have dependent children, obviously they do not receive free breakfasts & lunches at public schools.
**Because senior citizens do not have dependent children under the age of 5, they do not qualify for or receive WIC benefits.
** Because they do not have dependent children, the amount of government commodities they qualify for averages only $14.83 per month OR only $177.96 per year.
**Because they do not have dependent children, senior citizens are the 2nd group of clients to go through the food bank.
**Because they do not have dependent children they are limited to an estimated $10 per month maximum from the private food donation area. $120 annually.
**Every senior citizen I've served finds something in his/her commodity box that he or she does not or can not eat. They generously  donate it back to the food bank, "so the young babies won't go hungry."
**Every senior citizen I've served very carefully selects only the most needed items from the private donation area, if available.
**We've had to turn senior citizens away from the public donation area because the non-retired SNAP recipients who get to go before them didn't leave anything for the senior citizens or non-SNAP clients.
**To the best of my knowledge, at my small town's local food bank, all but two senior citizen clients whom we serve worked until age and/or health mandated retirement.

 When one adds up the retired senior citizen's benefits: SNAP $686 + government commodities $177.96 + private food bank donations, if available, $120.00 = maximum of $983.96 annually OR $81.99 per month OR $18.92 per week per person - we see they receive significantly LESS (more than 1/3 less) than the $29 per week per person challenge suggests.    From the view out my window, in addition to unaffordable healthcare costs, the second greatest challenge our nation's low income senior citizens face is hunger.

 Lastly I'll share my experiences with the last two categories, part-time low income SNAP recipients and unemployed, full-time welfare recipients.  To maintain consistency, I'll use a family size of 4 as an example:

**In my state a family of four can qualify for up to $649 per month in SNAP benefits - this amount is the maximum and is reserved for the unemployed, full-time welfare recipient.
 **My state is in line with the national average SNAP benefit for a family of four at $502.66 per month ($29 per week per person) - these households have at least one person employed at a low income level.
**A family of four must earn less than $31,008 annually to qualify for even a minimal SNAP benefit - $18 per month.
**non-retired SNAP recipients qualify for and receive free breakfasts and lunches at public schools ($744 per year per child)
**non-retired SNAP recipients with children under the age of 5 also qualify and receive WIC ($633 per year per child)
**non-retired SNAP recipients qualify and receive monthly government commodities from the local food bank (estimated at $780 per year per household)
**non-retired SNAP recipients qualify and receive privately donated foods from the local food bank (averages $810 per year per household, but can be as much as $1,000 per year per household - depending on donation levels)
**Because our local food bank accepts USDA commodities, federal law mandates that non-retired SNAP recipients with dependent children are served FIRST.

 When we add up the value of available food resources for an average low income, non-retired SNAP family of 4 (two adults, one school aged child and one child under 5) = annual SNAP benefit of $6,031.92 + school breakfasts & lunches for one child $744.00 + WIC for one child $633 + government commodities $780.00 + private food bank donations $810 = $8,998.92 annually OR $749.91 monthly OR $173.05 per week OR $43.26 per week per person, we realize that these folks receive significantly MORE than the very misleading $29 per person per week challenge circulating among our nation's rich & famous.  Please keep in mind that an, unemployed, full-time welfare family of four would receive approximately $1,756.08 per year more in SNAP benefits than the low income SNAP family portrayed in this example.

I believe in and support helping the poor.  But I also believe in honesty.  In keeping with the 13% annual food budget, a senior citizen or a family of 4 would have to earn $69,000 annually to comfortably afford the same amount of food resources available to the average non-retired SNAP eligible family of four (this commentary's categories 3 & 4).  In 2013, the average US household income was only $51,939. (2014's numbers will not be available until late 2015).  I'll provide that math for you ... 13% of $51,939 = $6,752.07 / annually OR $562.67 / monthly OR $129.85 weekly OR $32.46 per person per week- that's only $3.46 more per week than the publicized average of $29 SNAP recipient.  However, when we add all the other food resources available to SNAP recipients we find that SNAP recipients receive $43.26 per week per person - a full $10.80 MORE per week per person than the average U.S. full-time wage earner can comfortably afford.

Like it or not, those are the cold hard facts in my town. Senior citizens, the working poor and the lower middle class (those between poverty, family of four earning $31,008.01 & middle-class national average $51,939) seem to be the ones who are genuinely struggling with food insecurities.

We should also keep in mind that an April 2015 RFDTV agricultural news broadcast segment shared that while U.S. wages have remained stagnant, national food costs have seen an increase of 15% during the past 18 months.  Thus, making it even more challenging for our nation's senior citizens, working poor, and lower-middle class families to affordably purchase food.