Food stamps: Staving off hunger until lasting solution is found
MANILA, Philippines—With millions of Filipinos experiencing involuntary hunger, the government’s “Walang Gutom 2027 Food Stamp Program” was welcomed by Judy Taguiwalo, a former social welfare secretary.
However, Taguiwalo, also former University of the Philippines development studies professor, described the program as only a “stop gap measure,” advising the government to find sustainable solutions instead to address hunger.
Last Tuesday (May 23), Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said the program, which is expected to help one million poor households, will be implemented in July, initially covering 3,000 families.
By next year, the DSWD said it expects to cover 300,000 more households until the target one million families is reached. Beneficiaries are those who do not earn more than P8,000 a month.
“We believe that this program will properly address the gaps and assist its beneficiaries in attaining the recommended food and energy consumption needed for each member to perform their daily tasks and routines,” Gatchalian said.
This “has [a] direct and indirect contribution to human capitalization and a direct positive impact towards nation-building,” Gatchalian, former mayor of Valenzuela City, said.
As the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said on Wednesday (May 24), “historically, food stamps were introduced to distribute excess farm commodities during the Great Depression.”
According to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 1.04 million households, which translates to 6.55 million individuals, did not have enough income to meet even basic food needs in 2021. They are the “food poor.”
The PSA said the food threshold in 2021, which is the minimum income that a family of five needs for basic food requirements, was P8,379, or P55.86 a day for each member of the family.
As the DSWD said, these households are the target beneficiaries of the program.
However, based on surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), there are even more Filipino households experiencing involuntary hunger, or being hungry and not having anything to eat.
The SWS said 11.8 percent, or 3 million Filipino households, experienced hunger at least once in the last quarter of 2022. Some 2.4 million experienced moderate hunger, while 599,000 experienced severe hunger.
This, however, fell to 9.8 percent, or 2.7 million Filipino households, in the first quarter of 2023, with 2.3 million and 340,000 saying that they experienced moderate and severe hunger at least once in the last three months.
As Gatchalian explained, through the program, household beneficiaries would be given “tap cards” loaded with P3,000 worth of “food credits,” which they can use to buy food from DSWD-accredited retailers.
He first revealed last February that the government has plans to implement the program to fight hunger, which has been prevalent for decades already.
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According to data from the SWS, which has been conducting surveys on hunger since the second quarter of 1998, the experience of moderate and severe hunger was highest in the third quarter of 2020, the year when lockdowns against COVID-19 were imposed.
As explained by the SWS, “moderate” indicates that hunger was experienced by the household once or a few times, while “severe” means that hunger was experienced often or always.
Gatchalian had said that the DSWD is already coordinating with the private sector to make the program a success because the burden of hunger can be eased by providing the poor with food.
The DSWD said the pilot rollout will be in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, a geographically isolated region or province, an urban poor community, a calamity-hit area and a rural poor community.
Over $3 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will be used for the pilot run of the program, but Gatchalian said an estimated P40 billion is needed for its full scale implementation.
“[T]he ADB was kind enough to provide close to three million US Dollars for the six months pilot that will run in the middle part of this year towards the latter part of this year,” he said.
Sustainable solutions needed
Since hunger has already been prevalent for decades, Taguiwalo said the rollout of the program “needs to be fast and fair” and that “it should not be based on patronage.”
“People are also hoping that the funding from the ADB is a grant rather than a loan,” Taguiwalo said in a response to INQUIRER.net, which she also posted on her Facebook page.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had stressed that the program may be funded by the ADB’s official development assistance to the Philippines.
According to Taguiwalo, “medium and long-term solutions are needed to address food insecurity for many of our people,” saying that the government should consider solving the problem at its roots.
“Wage increase should be given to increase [the] purchasing ability of our workers. Local food production should be encouraged by providing subsidies to our farmers and removing dependence on food importation,” she said.
According to data from the PSA, Ibon Foundation and the National Wages and Productivity Commission, the P8,902 average minimum wage in the Philippines is P3,128, or 26 percent, less than the already low poverty threshold of P12,030 for a family of five.
Likewise, Taguiwalo pointed out that “jobs should be created by building and supporting local manufacturing industries rather than focusing on Build, Build, Build projects, which provide only temporary jobs.”
The think tank Ibon Foundation said 3.3 million of the net employment increase of 6 million since January 2020 is part-time work, while only 2.5 million of the increased employment was full-time work.
As it stressed, part-time work, which is less than 40 hours a week, is “usually work with low pay and no benefits.” From January 2020 to March 2023, the share of part-time workers in total employment increased from 3.16 percent to 34.4 percent.
‘Filipinos are not beggars’
KMP asked the government to “please, do not treat Filipinos as beggars seeking for alms.”
It stressed that people, especially the poor, should be given dignity.
“The problem of hunger is prevalent and it cannot be solved with food stamps only. Food stamps can provide for one or two meals for a family, but what about the long-term,” said KMP leader Danilo Ramos.
“Reviving the distribution of food stamps or food coupons only amplifies the government’s sheer incompetence in addressing the food crisis,” KMP said.
It said farmers can sustain and support local food production, but only with sufficient state support and agricultural subsidies, affordable food prices must be achieved, workers’ wages should be enough to support living expenses including food, and lastly, policies that allow profiteering out of the food system should be stopped and reversed.
“We are open to discussing with Secretary Gatchalian the proposals on how to mitigate hunger and achieve food security and food self-sufficiency. We must help attain secure, safe, and affordable food for and from the Filipino people,” Ramos said.
“All sectors creating, distributing, and consuming food should have a part in addressing the food crisis.”