GOP Cuts to Food Stamps are Counter-Productive and Cruel

In the vortex of bunk that serves as the politics of the Right, the refrain of “austerity” rings often, hollow and cruel. We all know the talking points by now. “We’re broke. Poverty relief and entitlement programs are bloated and need reform. You can’t spend your way out of a recession but you can do it with tax-breaks. Pay up, little people–the rich need more comforts.”

“Austerity,” seems to be defined by sacrifices from those who can least afford to make them and wealth for those who were already plenty wealthy. To help this austerity along, a permanent panic over the state of public finances is encouraged by the Right, the political servants of the 1%.

This state of panic featured prominently in the Paul Ryan’s recent budget plan approved by a Republican-dominated House of Representatives at the end of March. Sometimes, though, in a panic (or an induced panic), we become so fixated on relieving the one attention-demanding emergency that we can easily forget what else we might be losing.

While tax breaks are sheltered and military spending continues to rise in his latest budget proposal, Paul Ryan’s budget mandates cuts directly to the most vital and important of our safety net features: poverty relief programs. In terms of flexibility to grow and shrink as the economy gets better or worse, SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp program) is designed to offer a highly responsive public mechanism for avoiding mass misery in times of economic crisis. An efficient and humane program, SNAP is antithetical to everything on the Right so it is with little surprise we note that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

“Paul Ryan’s budget plan includes cuts in SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) of $133.5 billion — more than 17 percent — over the next ten years (2013-2022),[1] which would necessitate ending assistance for millions of low-income families, cutting benefits for millions of such households, or some combination of the two.”

This sort of hustle ends up serving the 1% two times. For one, the 1% is already severely undertaxed and is more likely to escape that financial responsibility when there’s less of a demand for safety net funding. Secondly, by starving out poverty relief programs like SNAP, the 1% creates a flooded low-income labor-market, where workers are desperate and often unwilling to sacrifice their subsistence paycheck to resist the workplace encroachments of their employers.

Beyond the hypocrisy of gutting social services while giving billionaires and weapons dealers more money, by attacking poverty programs in a time of economic hardship the American Right-Wing has proven how little human suffering accounts in their political equations.

In comparison to the right wing  propaganda about deficits and budget austerity there is the misery of reality in what the economic downturn has meant for those Americans who were hardest hit. For all the glimmers of an economic recovery, the lives of America’s working classes are a tightrope balancing act between higher bills and lower wages.  For those who don’t have jobs, it’s currently an average of a 40-month search before you’ll find one. When you do find one,  it’ll probably pay less than you expect it to. That sort of entrenched economic blight can change many lives from barely afloat to mired in extreme poverty.

Oftentimes, SNAP is what makes the difference. According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress

“In 2009 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was responsible for lifting the income of 3.6 million Americans over the poverty line, providing an average of less than $300 in monthly food stamps to families in need. In 2010 this program lifted 3.9 million Americans above poverty, including 1.7 million children.”

And in fact, America’s dependence on the SNAP program has been all the more important because of the tight job market and slow economy. From the economic collapse of 2007 until the start of the recovery in 2011, food stamp rolls grew from 26.3 million to almost 45 million.

The millionaires in our nation’s capital may never have to make eye contact with the reality of our ongoing recession. The rest of us are not so lucky. Half of the rest of us are poor or low-income. Fifty-seven percent of American children live in a poor or low-income family. Out of all SNAP food stamp funding, approximately 75% goes precisely to these poor or low-income families with kids.

As further explained in the Center for American Progress study listed above, for every 1 billion spent on the SNAP program each year,  approximately 14,000 Americans are able to find or keep their jobs. Another way of thinking about this is that approximately 1 million Americans were able to keep or find work in 2011 because of SNAP expenditures.

According to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, in 2009 alone SNAP reduced the poverty rate by 8%. In 2011, food stamps lessened the number of children living in extreme poverty by nearly half.

The GOP, in order to maintain its wars and tax-cuts, is perfectly fine with that half going back under the poverty line. But even the meanness of cutting food stamps is only outdone by the stupidity of doing so. Beyond cruel, it is economically counter-productive to cut food stamps in a recovering economy.

And for a change it’s not just leftists who have noticed. Besides saving or creating 14,000 jobs for every $1 billion spent on food stamps annually, the food stamp program pumps money back into local economies to many other beneficial effects. According to CBPP, SNAP benefits

“are one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the economy quickly. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in economic activity. Similarly, the Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.”

It turns out that feeding the nation’s neediest families is more than the right thing to do. As healthy as it is for them it might be even healthier for the economy.

It takes a real jerk to smack the food away from a hungry kid’s mouth. That jerk, it turns out,  is also a fool.

6 Replies to “GOP Cuts to Food Stamps are Counter-Productive and Cruel”

  1. There was a proposal floated in Florida within the last couple of months, that anyone on food stamps would not be permitted to buy anything sweet or tasty… we’re all on a form of public assistance so our diet needs to be punitive too. Gotta get those fat lazy people off of the government dole and out hunting jobs, dont’cha know?

    They tried to sell it as a way to end snacks and obesity. Complete fail. Which means they’re either going to try again or this time make it even harder to get help.

    They’ve already gone to computer online applications, and eliminated most of the case workers in this state. It’s been made nearly impossible to contact a living person if you have a question that doesn’t fit one of their stereotypes (the phone system is set in a series of multiple loops, and as soon as they found out that people were onto a trick (hit 0 six times in a row real fast when you got to a certain point, and you’d be put in line to talk to someone), they eliminated that also. And if something that happened today is an indicator, the state government has outsourced their call centers to India.

    One of my colleagues has been studying how they’re deliberately making things harder for the poor to get help… and I’m looking forward to his dissertation. So far (as I understand) he’s been able to establish that they’re deliberately making it harder at the state level and it’s all done because the system was privatized (maximum profit – minimum help).

    What is crazy is that I know some people who were middle class, lost their jobs (outsourcing and sale of company), and they’re on food stamps and other forms of assistance. Yet they STILL support the Republicans, even in the face of things like this.

  2. Well, but of course, they want to tank the economy, too. If they can do it before the election, they figure they win. If they do it over the long term, they create exactly the kind of peon society you mentioned, where desperate and ignorant people are battling each other so furiously over the least crumb that there is no solidarity against their real oppressors. Most of all, though, such people like to punish the “weak” because it makes them feel strong; to crush the “little” because it makes them feel big. On a private level, such mentalities are often child-abusers and child-violators. On a policy level, they like to do this.

  3. That’s because the people you mentioned still think they belong to the class from which they were ejected. They remain loyal to those they were supporting when they were upper middle class. In their minds, it’s those icky “others” who are poor and thus inferior, and therefore ought to be punished.

  4. 8% of the poverty level is not lessened because someone is on SNAP. In fact they wouldn’t be on
    SNAP if they weren’t living in poverty. Being dependent on the government to provide you with food does not bring you more income. And could someone please explain how $1 billion keeping or helping 14,000 people employed balances? Seriously it doesn’t even equate. I think that maybe this is just a smack against the GOP just for the sake of slandering the opposition.

  5. Who says being on food stamps brings you more income. Isnt this about making sure people have food? Its not about being dependent on the government, thats a silly right wing slam on the poor

  6. Hey Hershey!
    Here’s the data
    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/04/10/461337/food-stamps-reduce-poverty/

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/us/food-stamp-program-helping-reduce-poverty.html

    That’s where the I get the 8 percent reduction in poverty in 2009. I also link to these in the article.

    I also linked to the study that shows, if you’re interested, where jobs are either created or maintained by Dept of Agriculture SNAP spending.
    This link should have some of that data as well,
    http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2012/03/snap_report.html

    –Manny

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