As Farm Bill Talks Resume, Who Will Fight for the Nation’s Hungry?

Proposals in both the House and Senate would see nutrition assistance to the nation’s neediest cut

 

- Jon Queally, staff writer

A food pantry at the United Methodist Church of Worth in Chicago. (Photo: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune)

 

And while Republicans have continued to attack the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), which provides food assistance to the nation’s poorest families and individuals, the Democrats have played along by proposing less aggressive, but still damaging, levels of cuts to the essential program.

And because the last adjustment to the SNAP program expires at the end of this week, the pain caused by a feuding Congress willing to put hungry children and the elderly in the crosshairs amid an ongoing series of budget battles is about to get very real for some.

As Greg Kaufmann, poverty correspondent for The Nation, writes this week:

This Friday, 48 million people—including more than 21 million children—will see their food stamp (SNAP) benefits reduced. Instead of receiving an average of a buck-fifty for a meal, individuals in need of food assistance will get about $1.40. For families of three, the cut means they will receive $29 less in food stamps every month. […]

The SNAP cuts come at a time when 49 million people—about 14.5 percent of all US households—are food insecure. That means they don’t have enough money to meet their basic food needs, and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. The Institute of Medicine already demonstrated the inadequacies of the SNAP allotment for hungry families even before this cut.

What are we to make of this—the timing of the cut, the lack of discussion about it on the Hill, and the fact that it will deliver yet another blow to people who are already among the most vulnerable citizens in our nation?

It all points to the same hard truth we see time and again: when it comes to responding to the struggles of the more than one in three Americans who are living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $36,600 annually for a family of three—we prefer to look the other way.

But as the conference committee comes together Wednesday, as McClatchy reports, deeper cuts seem likely:

The Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would cut food stamps by $39 billion out of a projected $800 billion over 10 years. In addition, the House SNAP provision would require able-bodied adults without children to work or volunteer for 20 hours a week to receive federal assistance.

The Democratic-held Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade. The Senate plan wouldn’t add work requirements.

As Willy Blackmore, food policy editor as the TakePart.com, writes:

We won’t know anytime soon which terrible cut will prevail: the $4 billion cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program preferred by the Senate or the $39 billion thrashing of food stamps passed by the House. But one thing is certain: Funding for SNAP will drop starting on Friday, and all recipients will receive fewer benefits.

Among the progressive lawmakers trying to avert the disaster, Rep. Jim McGovern confessed to Blackmore that there were no good legislative options given the current climate in Washington. And because the current elevated funding for SNAP was written with a vague sunset clause when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or stimulus) was enacted in 2009, McGovern says those reductions are now an “inevitable reality.”

“What we absolutely should not do is make the situation even worse by piling on additional cuts in the context of the farm bill,” he adds. “As a member of the farm bill conference committee, I will fight with every ounce of energy I have to prevent additional cuts from happening.”

For Blackmore, however, Democrats should receive a large portion of the blame the current mess. For not better securing the improved funding for SNAP when they had the chance and because now they have capitulated by agreeing with Republicans that some level of cuts are warranted, he argues a great disservice to the nation’s poor has been done.

“The loss of stimulus funding,” writes Blackmore, “will amount to a $5 billion reduction in SNAP in 2014, and $6 billion in 2015 and 2016 combined. Congress’s epic $39 billion cut would be spread out over the course of 10 years, if it somehow manages to become law. And that would come on top of this reduction, which is, in essence, a Democrat-approved cut that’s 1/3 of the size of the House’s slash-and-burn approach to SNAP.”

Across the country, poverty assistance organizations and food pantries are bracing for the cuts, but in Washington, DC, it remains unclear what powerful voices will take a stand for the nation’s hungry and most vulnerable.

As Kaufmann laments, the drive to cut food stamps

all points to the same hard truth we see time and again: when it comes to responding to the struggles of the more than one in three Americans who are living below twice the poverty line—on less than about $36,600 annually for a family of three—we prefer to look the other way. Even as the interests of low-income people and the middle-class converge—for example, the need for good jobs and fair wages, access to continuing education, a more equitable economy where 95 percent of the gains don’t go to the top 1 percent, and a safety net that is available in tough times or when jobs pay lousy wages—we still find that a SNAP cut like this can occur with hardly a whisper of protest (outside of the advocacy community) at a time when hunger is widespread.

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