Politicians on the right commonly demonize the working poor. They are always trying to make cuts to social programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “Food Stamps”. SNAP is a program that helps to feed families, especially children, who are hovering near the poverty level.
Programs like SNAP do not provide a lot of money to these low-income families. In fact, it provides around $4.50 a day for food assistance – about the same amount that many people spend on a cup of coffee from Starbucks. To show how difficult it is to survive on $4.50 a day, Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-2) and his staff spent a week living on a “food stamp budget”.
“I will live on $4.50 a day for food for a week to bring attention to hunger and the $20 billion in cuts SNAP millions of Americans are facing. This is a conversation we need to have, and I hope this Challenge will help us continue the dialogue. Stay tuned to this page for updates from many of the participants!”
Congressman McGovern was not the only Representative to take the SNAP challenge. Congressman Mark Pocan (WI-2) also took the challenge. Pocan tweeted daily updates of his lunch from his office in D.C.
— U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) June 17, 2013
Why would these Congressmen take this challenge? They were highlighting the $20 billion dollars in cuts to the SNAP program proposed by the House GOP as part of the ‘Farm Bill’. Congressman Pocan explained why it was so important to restore the proposed cuts to the SNAP in his blog.
“I took to the House floor to vote on an amendment to the Farm Bill that would have restored the $20.5 billion in Republican cuts to SNAP—cuts that gut a critical program that so many Americans rely on. Unfortunately, for the 2 million Americans who will be kicked off SNAP, the amendment to combat these cuts failed on a largely party-line vote.”
The Farm Bill would have cut $20 billion from the SNAP program that helps poor and working families fight hunger, and benefits 120,000 New Hampshire residents, 70% of whom are families with children, each year.
In addition to slashing anti-hunger programs, the bill would have continued plush crop insurance subsidies to the big agriculture industry. These subsidies would cost American taxpayers nearly $9 billion over 10 years.
Congresswoman Shea-Porter supported an amendment that would have stripped these unnecessary expenditures from the bill, and used the savings to offset Republicans’ proposed cuts to SNAP. But when the amendment was not adopted, Rep. Shea-Porter voted against the bill.
The House ultimately rejected the bill because of GOP infighting.
“The House’s rejection of the farm bill by a 195 to 234 vote on Thursday was a stunning defeat for Speaker John Boehner, who supported the legislation and brought it to the House floor for a vote. Mr. Boehner was unable to win support from 62 Republicans on the party’s conservative fringe, who cast no votes because they believed the $20.5 billion cut in the food stamps program did not go deep enough.”
However it happened, the defeat was good news for SNAP recipients.
“This vote represents a victory for struggling families, senior citizens, small farmers, and regular taxpayers over lobbyist and special interest groups,” Rep. Shea-Porter said. “I will support a bill that helps farmers and ranchers continue growing healthy and affordable food, but reckless cuts to nutrition programs are unacceptable.”
But that good news may only be temporary. House GOP leadership is expected to bring some version of the bill back to the House floor for another vote later this month.
Most observers expect House GOP leadership to propose even deeper cuts, the next time around. Also expected: a new requirement that SNAP recipients work – which shows how completely out-of-touch these right-wing Congressmen are, and how little they know about the program. The reality is that almost 70% of SNAP recipients are not work-eligible because they are children, disabled or elderly. Of those SNAP recipients who are work-eligible, more than half are working (but still can’t afford to eat) – and a whopping 82% were employed either before or after receiving SNAP benefits.
The reality is that SNAP is working like it should: helping American families through short-term financial crises; and helping supplement nutrition for low-wage working families. The need for SNAP is at a record high – but that’s because the economy is so bad. The best way to cut SNAP spending is to create jobs that will allow families to feed themselves.
Congress needs to get to work on raising the minimum wage and passing a jobs bill. By raising the minimum wage, many of these SNAP recipients would finally earn enough money that they would no longer need assistance. If the GOP was really serious about helping these low-income families and reducing government spending they should be focused on moving these people out of the program. The best way to do that is pay them a living wage, not minimum wage. When less people need assistance, then the government will spend less money on these types of programs.
“In the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” — President Barack Obama