In New York’s 23rd district, so many hard-working people can barely afford to put food on their table. In some parts of the district, up to 45% of students are on free and reduced lunch programs at school because they do not have enough to eat at home. This is an important issue for our campaign, so we spoke to a local expert–Maureen Curry from Olean, who has seen this issue up close and personal.
Curry, a retired librarian, works at a food pantry in Olean. At this pantry, she serves many people every day what the pantry can afford to give. All the way from young kids, to working parents, Curry sees hunger everywhere.
“It’s not like these people are getting handouts by the government. They are working sometimes fifty hours a week and still have to come to the pantry for food,” Curry said.
Curry originally got involved with the pantry after her retiring. She had moved into a house, and could see a homeless shelter from her back window. When she found out they were looking for extra hands, Curry stepped up. Now, she has been with the pantry for seven years.
“I have loved every second of it,” Curry said.
A lot of these issues boil down to what the federal government has done to help the working class, or rather the lack of what they have done. Different programs, like welfare reform and social security, aren’t doing what they had originally intended to do. This hinders people from any sort of ability to buy steady food.
“The average monthly income [of people coming to] the pantry where I work is $1,338,” Curry said. “That isn’t nearly enough to live on, which is why I am in favor of raising the minimum wage everywhere.”
Tom Reed, the current congressman of the 23rd district in New York, promised to ensure living wages for the people in his district and creating jobs for everyone. However, in his now eight years of representing the 23rd district, he has done very little to help in this area.
Reed is part of the Ways and Means committee in Congress, which addresses things like social security and tax reform. Yet, recently Reed has shown he hasn’t cared about those not making enough to even put food on their table by supporting the tax reform, which benefits the wealthy. The tax bill also adds a $1.5 trillion deficit that will be paid for by cuts to the very social programs meant to help hardworking families in the 23rd put food on the table.
According the Census Bureau, there are 21,028 people living in congressional district 23 who make less than ten thousand dollars a year. There are another 15,445 people living in the district that make between ten thousand and $14,999 a year. In this district, ten percent of all families live below the poverty level. 40,617 people are living with out health insurance.
Curry has multiple ideas on how to get the federal government more involved with taking action against rural hunger and can improve living wages for everyone. Her plans include creating a more sustainable way of producing food, which would also create jobs.
“I don’t think people should be given handouts, but the federal government should wait three or six months after someone has acquired a job before taking their welfare away from them,” Curry said.
Curry is involved in growing community gardens to help provide more nutritional food. Gardens in front of the pantry have also been helpful because people can grow their own healthy food. It gives them something better to eat and provides jobs to those looking.
“A lot of the people who come into the pantry are overweight, and that is because the food they can afford aren’t all that healthy. These gardens we created provide a long-term solution,” Curry said.
A good economy is dependent on having healthy people, and access to nutritional food is a large part of that. Fixing problems Curry sees every day starts by having representatives who listen to what the people are asking for and what they need. It’s not easy making changes in Congress, but it is what elected officials are suppose to strive to do. Elected officials, like Reed, aren’t meant to take the easy way out or to only benefit those who have money. Change is needed in this district to help combat rural hunger and improve rural development and that change starts with a new representative.