by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
June 6, 2013
BLEEDING THE POOR TO FEED THE RICH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If one in six Americans is having trouble getting enough to eat each day, wouldn't the right thing to do be to find ways to feed these people?
Not if you're a Republican in Congress.
The U.S. House Agriculture Committee wants to chop $21 billion over 10 years, and change eligibility standards that would cut off benefits to about 2 million people. The U.S. Senate version is only slightly better.
You hear the same old nonsense from these jokers - feeding the poor creates a culture of dependency and creates a nation of takers.
Culture of dependency, my Aunt Fanny!
My local food bank hands out groceries as fast as they are donated to them. The local soup kitchen a few doors down from my newspaper's office routinely feeds more than 100 people at lunchtime. There's a waiting list for the one homeless shelter, and since the emergency overflow shelter closed for the season in April, the homeless are back in their encampments that are scattered along the river.
Some of these people fit the homeless stereotypes - substance abusers and people with mental health issues.
But many more are members of a club with a most loathsome name - "the working poor."
I think "working poor" is a loathsome term because it is loathsome that a woman or man in our nation can work one, two, or even three jobs, and still not have enough money to afford the deposit to move into an apartment, go grocery shopping, see a doctor, or live an existence that's anything beyond hand-to-mouth.
That's where too many Americans are now, five years after the financial markets imploded.
Yet it is our nation's have-nots, and not the have-too-much class, who have to pay the price for the orgy of greed and speculation that pushed us to the economic brink.
Take food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. About 50 million Americans rely on SNAP; 85 percent of the households that receive benefits have at least one working adult, and 76 percent of households include a child, an elderly person, or someone who is disabled.
These Americans are trying to get by on an average SNAP benefit of about $5 a day.
In 2012, it cost around $80 billion to fund SNAP. To put that number in perspective, that's about equal to what the 20 richest Americans earned last year in investment income.
Far from being an economic drag, the Congressional Budget Office estimates every dollar spent on SNAP in a depressed economy produced $1.72 of additional economic activity. It ranked SNAP as one of the most cost-effective ways to boost economic growth and jobs in a recession.
A 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture backs the CBO study's finding. The USDA study found that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generated $9.20 in community spending, and 3,300 farm jobs are created for every $1 billion of retail food sales to SNAP recipients.
And the program is very efficient. Fraud and abuse account for only 1 percent of expenditures.
Given these facts, why do Republicans and conservative Democrats want to cut SNAP? The cynical answer would be that the poor has no one to lobby for them in Washington.
When 1 in 6 Americans is living in poverty and not getting enough to eat, it makes no sense in economic, humanitarian, or public health terms to cut food assistance.
Yet, in pursuit of austerity policies opposed by a majority of Americans, too many Congressmen and Senators would rather take from the poor to give to the wealthy.
We are a better nation than this.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an Master's in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.