What a spectacle is taking place in Congress! Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are pressing for cuts to the food stamp program.
On November 1 of this year, the country’s food stamp program (referred to as “SNAP,” which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) took a big hit when its funding was cut by $5 billion or roughly 7% a person. This occurred when part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, which included a 13% boost for SNAP, expired.
Of course, Congress could have renewed the funding for SNAP then, even as an interim measure, but it failed to do so.
Now the food stamp program is faced with the threat of even more devastating cuts. Both the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and the Democratic-dominated Senate have passed bills calling for further cuts to food stamps effective the beginning of next year. The current skimpy level of funding is clearly inadequate, and the proposed changes will only make matters worse for the 47 million Americans who depend on food stamps for subsistence. It will take a mass movement to stop proponents of cutting food stamps in their tracks!
To be sure, the House bill is far worse than the Senate’s. It would impose the biggest cuts for food stamps for the poor in a generation: $39 billion over the next 10 years. The version passed by the Senate sets the figure at $4 billion.
So now members of the two parties are supposed to be negotiating to find a compromise. Will they end up with a “compromise” package cutting SNAP by something like $17 billion?
The president has said that if the cuts are too harsh he will veto the legislation. In other words, he favors cutting funding for food stamps and will sign a bill that cuts SNAP but only if he decides the measure before him is not too “harsh.”
Nearly all of food stamp recipients are children, disabled people, or seniors. More than 90% of the benefits go to families living under the poverty line.
To describe what is taking place as cruel, disgraceful or scandalous would be an understatement. A more apt term is criminal, since the very lives of millions hang in the balance.
And time is running out for legislative action before December 31, when the Farm Bill, which contains the SNAP program, expires. If a new law is not enacted by then, the U.S. farm program will revert on January 1, 2014 to an underlying 1949 law under which, among other things, the price of milk in grocery stores will double.
But what would happen if a new law is passed with Draconian cuts to the SNAP program? Even if the “more lenient” Senate version were agreed to, families would have to scrape by on $90 a month (about $3 a day or $1 a meal) for food. The House version would kick 3.8 million people off the rolls and sharply curtail the amount of food SNAP recipients would have access to.
If this happens, reports of the number of more children going to school without having breakfast will multiply even more than is the case now, and SNAP recipients will be left to pack pantry lines that do not have the capacity to meet their needs.
Incidentally, despite the horror stories that will be widely circulated to justify cutting the food stamp program, SNAP has a richly deserved reputation for few errors, low administrative costs, and overall efficiency.
What is happening is basically this: The food stamp program is being thrown under the proverbial bus, while Congress throws a ton of money at the richest farmers by way of subsidies. And the taxpayers are paying the bill for this government largesse.
Shouldn’t we be asking this question: How is it that the U.S. government is ready, willing and able to come up with tens of billions of dollars more to pay the salaries of Afghan troops and police for another 10 years of occupation, while at the same time the government is hell-bent on cutting food stamps for poor people in this nation, who are struggling for survival for themselves and their families?
One thing should be crystal clear from this experience: The two major political parties are complicit in trying to put the burden of austerity on the working class majority, especially its most impoverished sector. Yes, they differ on the degree and the timing and the magnitude but they are singing from the same hymn book when it comes to cutting food stamps. This is another example of why it is so critical for labor to act independently of either of the corporate parties and fight for a program that meets the needs of the 99%.
The challenge now is to build the largest possible mobilizations in the days to come to demand: “No cuts to the food stamp program! Preserve and expand that program!” We urge the labor movement to act without delay, in conjunction with its community allies, to plan and organize such demonstrations.