Ryan’s food stamp stance worries needy in Janesville

Ryan's budget plans would convert SNAP program into a block grant
Ryan’s food stamp stance worries needy in Janesville

With the Republican presidential nomination cemented, the there will be much debate over Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s budget proposals until Election Day.

Those who watch out for the neediest said they worry they’ll end up worse off than they already are.

Those who turn to LaShonda Dykeman’s workplace drive-through window only know half the struggle.

“I only make $7.25,” said Dykeman.

As customers pay for meals often exceeding Dykeman’s hourly wage, the 24-year-old knows hunger at the drive-through pales to the hunger faced by her family at home.

“Struggling and worrying about meal to meal — it’s scary,” said Dykeman.

The money Dykeman earns at work isn’t enough, as the majority of her family meals come from food stamps.

“That’s about the $300 in food stamps,” said Dykeman while looking into her freezer.

Raising two boys and a baby girl on her own, Dykeman said the assistance is a blessing but it comes with a sense of guilt.

“It makes me feel like a failure,” Dykeman said.

Dykeman’s family is part of a growing number in Janesville turning to the federal food stamp program known as SNAP. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services show SNAP enrollments in Rock County jumped 8 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Ryan budget and food stamps

Ryan acknowledges the higher demand for SNAP in his “Path to Prosperity” budget plan, but he calls the current structure of public assistance programs unsustainable. Ryan proposes converting the SNAP program into a block grant tailored to each state’s demands.

“What the block grant does is basically saying we are capping the size of the program at some fixed amount. Regardless of what happens with the economy, this is the amount you have to run the program with,” said Judi Bartfeld, a consumer science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bartfeld acknowledged the ideology behind Ryan’s proposal but said a block grant would eliminate the “safety net” component of SNAP — potentially leaving out scores of needy families in Ryan’s hometown.

“If we had block granted the program when we had 13 percent of the population who needed to provide assistance, it’s fairly straightforward to see that it would not have had the capacity to meet the need that it’s been serving in the intervening years,” Bartfeld said.

The shelves at Janesville’s Salvation Army food pantry are a stark reminder that hunger remains a priority.

“Because that’s who eats here,” said Major Ruth Faye, of the Salvation Army. “It’s a Janesville neighbor of Paul Ryan who comes here and eats. How does he know that neighbor?”

“Even all the other politicians, it’s OK for them because they don’t know how it feels to tell your kid, ‘We can only have one burger because we have to save for tomorrow.'” said Dykeman.

And as Janesville’s needy wonder about tomorrow’s meals, Dykeman said she hopes lawmakers remember the struggle for food will remain long after Election Day.