America's poor rarely catch a break these days. The Senate is expected to vote today for a bill that will cut food stamp benefits by $6.1 billion to help fund Medicaid and teachers' jobs, reasoning they were too high now that food costs are lower than predicted. Proponents essentially argued that poor people had too much money for food.
As the Washington Post's Ezra Klein explains, last year's federal Recovery Act increased the amount of money for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), to about $80 more per household each month. Amid the recession and high unemployment, about six million more people registered for the program in the past year alone, so program costs boomed from $20 billion to $65 billion. Meanwhile, food prices have deflated from last year's high rates. Now people are able to get more bang for their buck, hence the Senate's idea to cut payments. It's frustrating not only because America's poor, working, and middle class are suffering at record levels and could use this tiny leg up, but also because it's a really stupid cut for the overall economic picture: According to Klein, food stamps serve as one of the best forms of stimulus money, to the tune of $1.70 of activity for every dollar spent. In other words, our economy desperately needs this.
"This is also a question of priorities," Klein writes, explaining that the Senate voted against proposed cuts to oil and gas subsidies, and may continue tax cuts for the wealthy. "But food assistance for poor families? You can get the votes to slash those."
It's not like most food stamp recipients are young, jobless bums who spend the funds on lavish feasts, despite what a recent Salon.com story on "hipster" recipients suggests. About half of food stamp users are children and the elderly; about one-quarter are working-age women and 14 percent are working-age men. Most have jobs, but about 90 percent fall below the poverty line. An increasing number of recipients were considered middle class before falling on hard times, and many feel embarrassed to sign up because of the stigma that remains. One Idaho man explained,"I'm the type of person if I really don't need it, I got pride, I guess. I don't like asking for help unless I really need it. But I couldn't go without anymore."
The sustainable food movement has been (and sometimes rightfully) accused of being entrenched in the realm of the wealthy Whole Foods shopper. When it's a question of eating or not eating, organic versus conventional or chips versus carrots seems pretty silly. But there's no question that a sustainable food system won't really work unless all people can afford sustainable food and understand how to prepare it. Policymakers must enact long-term changes to the system to make it more affordable, but in the meantime, they add insult to injury by cutting food stamp funds. Recipients could use the means to purchase items other than cheap junk. As Jennifer Bleyer writes in Salon, "Controversy about how [recipients] use food stamps marks an interesting shift from the classic critique that the program subsidizes diets laden with soda pop and junk food. But from that perspective, food stamp-using foodies might be applauded for demonstrating that one can, indeed, eat healthy and make delicious home-cooked meals on a tight budget." Thanks to Senate priorities, that budget just became unnecessarily tighter.
Senate Cuts Food Stamp Funds; Leaves Oil and Gas Subsidies Intact | Sustainable Food | Change.org