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Below we will address some of the questions and ideas people write to us through the website. The witnesses will be crafting their responses throughout the month of March 2009. Submit a question, concern or idea, here.

Why do the witnesses have children that “they can’t feed”?

Choosing whether or not to have a child is a very personal choice, and half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned. We would argue that in many ways this question is beside the point—these children are here now, so what are we going to do to make sure they are able to reach their fullest potential?

The responses of the Witnesses to the question of why they had children are varied—while some say they became pregnant due to birth control failure (or failure to use birth control), many planned their families. Some were in foster care or abused and felt moved to start loving families by having their own children, because they didn’t feel love from anyone else. Others reached their late twenties and thirties and, accepting the fact that they may never be financially secure, chose to have children now rather than wait for a more secure income. Some of the Witnesses are with the father of their children, others left an abusive relationship, or had a boyfriend leave because he couldn’t handle the stress of taking care of a sick child. No one’s financial or relationship circumstances are guaranteed, so while preventing unwanted pregnancies is a component to ending the cycle of poverty, we cannot judge those who are struggling to feed their children.

Why can’t the Witnesses work to make a living instead of relying on welfare?

Thirty of the forty women featured here are working.

The simple answer is this: most available jobs do not offer a living wage. Many of the Witnesses are actually working, but still rely on programs like food stamps, WIC and Medicaid to make ends meet. Those who are working have to carefully balance working overtime with the risk that they could be cut off of all welfare services if they make even a dollar over the income level required. Others have done the math and realized that with child care expenses, transportation costs, health insurance, rent and food costs, they may be worse off.

What does it take to be self-sufficient in Philadelphia County? For a family of three–one adult, one preschooler and one school age child, a person must bring in $48,528 annually. This is 276% of the federal poverty level. It translates to about $25.00 per hour. Find out more about self-sufficency.

None of the women in Witnesses to Hunger come close to this salary. The woman who makes the most in this group, makes $15.00 per hour. She has been working at the same job at a local drug store for the past 9 years. She owns her home, pays her mortgage, pays for child care, and has an extremely hard time buying enough food for her two daughters. She was recently cut off of food stamps becasue she increased her hours from 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week (when her youngest daughter turned one year old).

Don’t people on food stamps just need to learn how to balance their budgets and cook better?

There are many barriers to low-income parents being able to cook healthy meals for their children, and yes, some of the problem is a lack of knowledge on how to cook or trouble knowing which foods provide the most nutrition for their cost. While these are issues that must be addressed in order to end hunger, there are much larger structural barriers that are more urgent to address: lack of resources, lack of access, benefits that are good but not sufficient.

Research has proven that it is impossible to feed a family an adequate, let alone nutritious, diet on that budget. Access is a major issue because most poor urban neighborhoods are populated with corner stores—offering junk food and grocery staples at jacked up prices—and lack grocery stores that provide fresh produce and other nutritious foods. To find out more, see “Coming up short” at the Children’s HealthWatch website.