SocietyWatch

From the April 2015 Trumpet Print Edition

46 million: New baseline for food stamps?

For 37 months in a row,more than 46 million Americans received food stamps, according to a February report from the Department of Agriculture. That means more than one in seven Americans rely on the program, at a cost of $227 billion over that same three-year period.

In a typical month, more than 20 million families draw benefits from the program. The 46.6 million food stamp participants compose 15 percent of the population, a growth of 1,517 percent from 1969, when only 2.8 million people took advantage of the program. During that time period, America’s population has only grown by 57 percent.

Ironically, the massive dependence on handouts from the federal government exists as President Barack Obama highlights recent job growth. President Obama claims to have added 10 million jobs since entering office, but the number of people depending on food stamps has increased by almost twice that.

Stoners rejoice: It’s legal in D.C.

On February 26, Washington, d.c., became the newest frontier in the national movement for legalizing recreational marijuana. Adults in the District can now possess2 ounces, grow up to six plants, and share their crop yields with others—but it is not yet legal to buy or sell the drug.

d.c. follows Colorado, Washington and Alaska in legalizing pot. But policymakers in those states are still working out regulatory structures, and marijuana remains a Schedule 1 narcotic under federal law. That makes its use a federal crime. However, d.c. Mayor Muriel Bowser says that doesn’t matter because the people of the District favor legalization: “We would encourage the Congress to not be so concerned with overturning what 7 in 10 voters said should be the law in the District of Columbia,” she said at a February 25 conference.

Concern abounds not just over the contradiction between federal and regional laws, but also over d.c.’s failure to open up legal channels to buy and sell cannabis. In the absence of customary commerce, a “social economy” is expected to take root, and aspects of the illegal trade will inevitably be seedy. “People are going to rush into the breach here and try to take advantage,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (norml). “And some will not do it right.”

Time bomb: Student debt

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says more students are struggling to pay back their loans. At the end of 2014, student loan delinquencies (loans at least 90 days overdue) increased to 11.3 percent, up .2 percent from the previous quarter.

Today there is more than $1.3 trillion in outstanding student debt, and the average borrower owes $28,400 upon graduation, says the Project on Student Debt. Seven in 10 seniors who graduated from colleges in 2013 had student loan debt.

And much of that debt may be a time bomb waiting to explode.

In recent years, lawmakers have provided students with options that let them postpone repayment without triggering delinquency or default. And students have been availing themselves of those options like crazy.

One such option, called forbearance, allows students to ignore loans for up to three years. But at the end of the term the debt comes due—and with a nasty surprise for many: principle plus back interest for the forbearance period.

That is why the latest figures from the Education Department are so disturbing. Loan balances in forbearance were about 12.5 percent of the total in 2006. Today they are 16 percent—or approximately $125 billion worth of the total.

And none of these forbearance loans make it into the Federal Reserve Bank’s statistics on delinquencies. They are lying hidden, ready to explode and to wipe out a massive chunk of a generation’s personal finances.

Church of England ordains first female bishop

On January 26, the Church of England ordained its first female bishop. Libby Lane was consecrated in a service at York Minster. Archbishop of York Dr. John Sentamu led the ordination service, which was briefly interrupted by a vicar who shouted, “No! Not in the Bible.” This ordination ends the Anglican Church’s long, divisive dispute over female bishops. Based on Bible prophecy, the Trumpet forecasts that the Church of England’s liberal actions will motivate many of its conservative members to return to the Catholic Church. Read “The Church That Swallowed a Church.”