There is Still Time to Defeat the Bipartisan Drive to Cut Food Stamps, and It Is the Responsibility of the Labor Movement to Lead the Fight!
The facts are not complicated: The Senate agreed on June 10, 2013 to cut Food Stamp (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) funding by $4.1 billion over the next 10 years. On September 19, 2013 the House of Representatives passed a bill cutting funding by $39 billion dollars over the same period. Any reduction will be on top of the 7% cut in food stamp funding that automatically went into effect November 1, 2013.
As of this writing, the latest report we have is that in the meetings taking place between representatives of the two chambers to reconcile differences, agreement has been reached on $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts over the next 10 years. However, other reports say that no such agreement has been reached.
President Obama has made clear he will sign cuts to food stamps, although it is not clear how deep a series of cuts he will accept. But the real point is that all cuts are unacceptable. Even the less devastating Senate bill would harm 500,000 households, which would lose $90 in food stamp benefits each month. The SNAP helps feed approximately 47 million struggling Americans, with what is already a meager average assistance of $4.45 a day. And, “Nearly 72 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
All but one Democratic senator voted for the $4.1 billion cut in food stamp funding. Their “justification” is that farmers need the farm bill to pass in order to receive needed subsidies—and if that means throwing recipients of food stamps under the bus, so be it. They also warn that milk prices will increase astronomically if a farm bill is not enacted.
A closer examination, however, reveals more corporate welfare in favor of Big Agribusiness rather than support for struggling farm families. Crop insurance subsidies were originally intended to provide insurance against crop losses for family farmers as part of an agricultural safety net and to reduce the need to pass ad hoc disaster assistance bills in times of inclement weather. Unfortunately, crop insurance programs have morphed into corporate welfare. The largest recipients of subsidies are corporations that insure crops, with a program characterized by high and burdensome administrative costs. What is more, these wasteful expenditures are being made at a time when the farm sector continues to be one of the strongest in our economy, with net farm income expected to reach $128 billion this year.
The problem is not that the American people do not understand what is at stake here: 80% of the U.S. population believes that hunger is a serious problem. One in six people goes to bed hungry every night, one in five children. Millions of families are affected.
What is more, cuts to the SNAP program could be avoided if savings from reforming crop insurance subsidies were adopted. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) tried to do just that with an amendment he introduced in June that replaced the deep cuts to food stamps with reductions in crop insurance subsidies. “It would restore those cuts by eliminating or reducing some of the wasteful, excessive subsidies to the highly profitable big agribusiness,” McGovern said on the House floor. However, the McGovern bill failed 234 to 188, as the House leadership made clear that it would not allow any amendments to its bill forcing the food stamp cuts.
Cutting food stamps is another example of the many austerity measures driven by the profit-making class at the expense of the working class. Denying 1.3 million long-term unemployed an extension of benefits is another. And all of this is taking place as U.S. companies are more profitable than ever, with corporate profits a record 9.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Each of the last three years has seen a higher ratio of corporate profits to GDP than the earlier record high of 9.1 percent, set in 1929 (New York Times 8/10/13). All of this is happening as workers’ earnings are at the lowest percentage of GDP since 1928.
There is plenty of money available to provide subsidies to needy farmers without cutting food stamps. Why not eliminate corporate tax loopholes? Or increase the corporate tax rate to 50%, close to where it stood as late as 1983? Or enact the Robin Hood tax on the sale of stocks, bonds, derivatives, currencies, and hedge funds—activity which for the most part benefits a tiny minority of super-wealthy individuals? Or cancel the planned ten-year expansion of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, which will cost tens of billions of dollars that could better be spent on food stamps, unemployment benefits, and other social programs at home?
The question is what will it take to stop this vicious right-wing attack on children, seniors. the disabled, veterans and others who depend heavily on food stamps for survival? Surely, the labor movement must step into this battle on behalf of the working class majority and defeat this bipartisan plan to cut food stamps. And there is still time. Congress members home for the holidays should be pressured to call/and or attend town meetings. They should be required to explain to food stamp recipients why they favor cutting their benefits. Letters to the editor should be written in every community in this country. Labor and its community allies should immediately organize rallies and demonstrations to sound a loud and clear message: the people will not accept these cuts! After all, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has said, “We will end the political career of any member of Congress who votes to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.” It’s time for the AFL-CIO and the rest of the labor movement to reiterate that message in this equally important battle and declare “we will end the political career of any member of congress who votes to cut food stamps!”