What’s even worse than blaming people for something that isn’t their fault is punishing them for it.
And that’s exactly what the U.S. House Republicans are trying to do to food-stamp recipients. On Sept. 19, all but 15 Republicans in the House voted to cut $39 million from the food-stamp program during the next 10 years. The vote was 217 to 210. No Democrats voted for the mean-spirited measure, and the 15 Republicans who voted against it deserve our applause. The three Republicans from Minnesota (Bachmann, Kline, Paulsen) voted for the cuts. Have they no shame?
Action on the cuts now proceeds to the U.S. Senate. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. Let us hope so.
Tea-Party extremists, led by Rep. Eric Cantor, claim the food-stamp program is out of control. What’s really out of control are well heeled (and well fed) politicians, like Cantor, who treat the working poor like distasteful pests.
Here are the facts: A virtual economic melt-down in 2008 caused mainly by Wall Street excesses sent this country to the brink. Unemployment skyrocketed. Those struggling below the poverty level increased to 49 million people. As the economy slowly improved, Wall Street and the wealthiest have made out like bandits while most people’s incomes have stagnated or declined – that is, those people who were fortunate enough to find any jobs at all. Some have no choice but to work part-time or low-wage jobs, leaving them struggling to pay bills and survive. Far and wide, parents and children are going hungry.
About 3.8 million people will lose food stamps if those House Republicans have their way. Nearly half of food-stamp recipients are children and about 10 percent are seniors and/or disabled, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It is true the cost of the food-stamp program has more than doubled since 2008, from $38 billion to $78 billion a year. As of now, the number of people on food stamps (at its peak about 47 million) appears to be leveling off as the economy improves. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that within a decade the number of recipients will drop to about 34 million, at which time the program will cost less than it does now. By the way, one interesting fact about food stamps is for every dollar spent, $1.72 is generated in general economic activity, according to Moody’s Analytics.
Those in favor of cuts and tighter eligibility requirements point to rampant fraud in the program. Of course, any abuse is wrong. However, in fact, studies show 98 percent of recipients truly qualify under guidelines, and only 1 to 2 percent of recipients cheat or “traffic” in food stamps (sell them for money). That abuse has declined drastically after most states switched from stamps to debit cards. This charge of food-stamp fraud is so much like the allegations of widespread voting fraud used by losers to justify outrageous voter-suppression efforts.
What’s really sad about these cuts is they are part of a long-cherished plan instigated by conservatives who believe government should drastically cut, privatize or abolish social programs. They include – among many others – Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare and food stamps. The conservative rationale is unfettered free-market forces will naturally provide jobs and living security for all people willing to work. Government, they claim, just gets in the way of that anything-goes utopia. Government, they swear, is the real culprit; it coddles do-nothings and creates dependency. (Never mind corporate welfare.) That is why Tea Party ultra-right-wingers, do-nothings like Sen. Ted Cruz, are not the least concerned about an imminent government shut-down. Some, fiddling while Rome burns, would be thrilled by a paralyzed government.
Meantime, back in the real world, Americans who believe in a social contract (that we are all in this together and should help one another) must continue to fight for jobs, affordable education, access to health care and food for the hungry.