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Michael J. Wilson is the director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center. Previously, he was the national director of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), an organization committed to activist politics, liberal policies and a progressive future. He is the first African-American to head ADA. Wilson came to ADA from the 1.3 million member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) where he held several positions, including International Vice President, Director of Legislative and Political Action and Chief Lobbyist. At UFCW, Wilson helped to expand the federal food and nutrition programs raise the federal minimum wage. Wilson also served as director of the Active Ballot Club, one of the largest labor political action committees in the nation. He previously held positions at the U.S. Department of Labor in the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs and in the Employment Standards Administration where he was Chief of Staff. Early in his career, Wilson served as Legislative Representative for the late Representative Charles Hayes (D-IL) and as a canvasser and organizer for the Illinois Public Action Council.
An expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program instituted under the 2009 federal stimulus will expire on November 1st. The cut will affect all 48 million recipients of the food stamp program, and translates into 16 fewer meals per month for a family of three, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, says that these cuts are hurting people who need the food stamp program in order to feed themselves.
“We know that there are tens of thousands of people who are underemployed, who are unemployed, who are seniors, and who are children who depend on these programs,” said Wilson. “In the state of Maryland, there are over 790,000 people who depend on these programs.”
“The real reason we have people who are on these programs who need this is because of the economy. It's because a majority of the folks who are getting food stamps either are kids or they're elderly, or they're working people who just don't make enough money or don't have enough hours to be able to be able to have the basic necessities in life. And so it's about poverty. It's about economic inequality. And it's about the inability of our nation to be able to provide the kinds of employment which give people an opportunity to take care of themselves and their basic needs,” said Wilson.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. On Friday, an expansion of the Food Stamp Program from the 2009 federal stimulus will expire. The cut will affect all 48 million SNAP recipients and translates into 16 fewer meals per month for a family of three. That's according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Now joining us to talk about these impending cuts is Michael J. Wilson. He's the director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center. Prior to directing Maryland Hunger Solutions, Wilson served on the board of the Food Research Access Center. Thank you so much for joining us.MICHAEL J. WILSON, DIRECTOR, MARYLAND HUNGER SOLUTIONS: Thank you for having me.NOOR: So before we get into the severity of these cuts that are happening now and may escalate in the following weeks, it seems like there's a consensus from Republicans and the majority of Democrats that some cuts are necessary. Do you agree with that analysis and that conclusion?WILSON: Well, we don't agree. We know that there are tens of thousands of people who are underemployed, who are unemployed, who are seniors, and who are children who depend on these programs. In the state of Maryland, there are over 790,000 people who depend on these programs. And we think they should not be cut at this time.NOOR: And for the cuts that are going into effect on Friday, how will that translate into someone's everyday life that's a food stamp recipient?WILSON: So it's going to vary by family. The average benefit in the state of Maryland is $30 per week. It can be more or less depending on your income, depending on your expenses, depending on the size of your household, whether there are kids. So by and large this cut that's going to happen on November 1 is between 5 and 10 percent. So if the average is $30, people can [incompr.] find themselves--instead of having $30 to spend at the store, they'll have $28.50, or they could have $27. So it's going to be a dramatic amount of cuts for people who are really at the edge of the system.NOOR: And how is this going to impact food banks and other hunger relief efforts?WILSON: So food banks are already stretched very thin. They do a great job trying to reach out to people and to make sure that people have an additional way to get some food. But this is just going to put more stress on the food bank system, which is the emergency food system. It's not the way people should have to depend on having food for their families or food for the kids or food for themselves.NOOR: And so these cuts that'll go into effect on Friday, it's likely just the tip of the iceberg. The Senate and House have competing versions of the farm bill, and they both agree that the food stamps will be cut. I believe the Senate Democrats are proposing $5 billion should be cut, whereas the House Republicans have some [incompr.] something like $40 billion that will be cut. What's your response to those two proposals?WILSON: Well, the Senate bill, which passed unanimously, 'cause there were some Democrats who were opposed and there were some Republicans who were opposed, but the majority in the Senate agreed that there should be a $5 billion cut. And we believe that that's not necessary at this time. In the House, however, you had a much more Draconian proposal, which would cut $40 billion over the course of ten years. That's an average of $4 billion a year. That would throw tens of thousands of folks off the program who don't have another [incompr.] make sure that they feed themselves and their families.NOOR: And finally, what's it going to take to change the national conversation about food stamps and their necessity in the current economy?WILSON: So that's a longer conversation. I mean, the real reason we have people who are on these programs who need this is because of the economy, it's because a majority of the folks who are getting food stamps either are kids or they're elderly or they're working people who just don't make enough money or don't have enough hours to be able to be able to have the basic necessities in life. And so it's about poverty, it's about economic inequality, and it's about the inability of our nation to be able to provide the kinds of employment which give people an opportunity to take care of themselves and their basic needs. And so that's the beginning of that conversation. And it's really trying to have--it's really hard to have that conversation in the context of where you have a Congress that can't get enough of its business done to be able to take care of the basic needs of the country in general, much less respond to the needs of the poor.NOOR: Michael J. Wilson, thank you so much for joining us.WILSON: Thank you.NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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