Elsie DeFratus was an elderly widow who lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, on less than a hundred dollars a month from Social Security. $15 a week for housing left her 65 cents a day for food. Prices rose. Mrs. DeFratus had less and less to eat and shrank to 76 pounds. On October 3, 1974 she collapsed and died.
"Malnutrition," the coroner said after an autopsy.
Exceptional? To be sure. But Mrs. Defratus was only one of 20 million U.S. citizens estimated by the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1975 to be eligible for food stamps, but not on the program. That means many malnourished people in the United States.
"Over the past three to four years, our nation's needy have become hungrier and poorer," concluded a 1974 report to the Senate committee from the Food Research and Action Center. This, despite the fact that we spend almost $6 billion a year on federal food assistance programs, most of it on food stamps.
Why have so many become hungrier?
One reason is that the food stamp program aims too low. It tries to provide an Economy Plan diet worked out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the government itself admits that few families -- perhaps one in ten -- can nourish themselves adequately this way. Studies show that even the least poor of the poor can barely afford the economy diet. A few years ago the Bureau of Budget said: "The Economy Plan is an emergency diet intended to be used during periods of economic distress. As a permanent diet, the Economy Plan fails to provide sufficient caloric value, although minimum levels of other essential nutrients