Warning: This is a post about an Omaha political race. It has nothing to do with my regular frugal projects. If you don’t care about Omaha politics, or this issue, I won’t be offended if you ignore the post.
Way back in April 2011, I wrote this post about two misguided Nebraska lawmakers and their attempt to prove that “it’s too difficult to eat well” on a SNAP program.
Well, I’ve learned a lot since then, and I hope Heath Mello has, too. He has announced he is running for mayor of Omaha this fall. Let’s recap what happened in 2011….
The Omaha World-Herald ran an article (the link no longer works) about two Nebraska state senators attempting to eat for a month on a food stamp budget “in order to draw attention to the lack of healthy food available to low-income families” in Omaha. After buying a loaf of wheat bread, a half-gallon of skim milk, peanut butter, jelly and Frosted Mini-Wheats for “less than $16.85” and eating only that all week, then-senator Mello declared that it was “too difficult to eat well” on the budget provided by SNAP. My article suggested fresh produce and other changes would cost less and provide nutrition on that budget.
I was really taken aback by the comments made by our elected senators, and the fact that they really weren’t trying to learn how to resolve the education component of the SNAP program. I offered to walk with Mello to his neighborhood store, make smart, nutritious choices, and show him how the program is designed to work. He was not interested. He told me he did this to “learn as a lawmaker.” I told him he could learn how to improve information programs for assistance recipients, and that would be a great use of state resources. He still declined the opportunity to learn more as a lawmaker.
Five years later, I have worked even more in the area of feeding and educating the hungry in our community. I work with a food pantry that provides groceries to qualifying low income families. I work with another organization that teaches nutrition, food budgeting and basic cooking skills to low income families. I have worked grocery store educational events in the poorest communities. I have learned more about how SNAP is intended to be a temporary stop-gap, not a permanent lifestyle. I have learned what it does and does not cover. Even though I no longer journal my family’s dinner menus (which can still be found in the archives here), I can still put together a week’s worth of meal planning for about $50/week for three of us. It IS possible, and there are educational resources available. I believe our elected officials should know how to make that information available to those that need the programs.
I never heard back from Mello, even when the Unicameral was considering issues affecting low income families. His steadfast refusal to consider a different aspect of SNAP, resources available to low income families, and the educational component of temporary assistance, is troubling to me.
The man wants to be mayor of Omaha. His political ambitions are clear. But if he doesn’t want to provide real assistance, if he isn’t interested in learning about solutions, if he only wants to be elected, then he cannot effectively be a leader that will make a positive impact in this city, or in the community that needs leadership in this area of hunger.
I believe Omaha needs better. We need to come together (which is happening in North O and Florence!), to build up the citizenry. We do not need to claim that survival is not possible, when there are so many opportunities for families to learn and thrive. We do not need to provide permanent assistance for everyone/anyone who is simply uneducated — we need to educate them.
And as long as I have the soapbox, I’ll say it again: The Unicameral, and the FedGov, need to attach to SNAP and any other state program, a requirement of an educational component if recipients request long-term assistance. Existing programs are already available in our area, and meet federal funding requirements.
I’m done now. Thanks for reading, and for allowing me a brief detour from my frugal journey.
* If you are in need of temporary assistance, or would like additional information, here are some local resources: