Thursday, August 26, 2010

Congress cuts billions from food stamps

Congress cuts billions from food stamps

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Sometimes life under capitalism is like an episode of “The Twilight Zone” — completely irrational.

However, recent acts of Congress are not science fiction but very real actions that will have dire consequences for millions of the poorest people in the country.

In recent weeks both houses of Congress passed a $26 billion state fiscal aid bill. Its stated aim is to save 318,000 state and local education and health care jobs and to help fund Medicaid programs. But the bill comes with dire strings attached.

The Senate’s Republican right wing pushed hard and even filibustered to stop passage of this bill. Democrats responded by proposing a cut of $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the Food Stamp Program — along with other measures to offset part of the bill’s costs. When the Congressional Budget Office claimed the bill would still increase the federal deficit, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, broke the filibuster by offering to increase the cut and take $11.9 billion from food stamps. The bill then passed.

The 2009 Recovery Act had included a 13.6 percent increase in food stamp benefits to aid workers hit by the recession. The entire Republican right opposed this $787 billion stimulus package and has been waiting for an opportunity to undo its provisions. This new legislation will terminate the SNAP increase in April 2014, sending food stamp benefits back to 2009 pre-stimulus plan levels.

With these major cuts in place, the House agreed to the Senate’s version of this bill.

On Aug. 5, the Senate pulled a sleight-of-hand by unanimously passing the misnamed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. While it will allegedly fund $4.5 million for school-based child nutrition programs, this bill would cut another $2.2 billion in food stamp benefits and move up SNAP cutbacks to November 2013.

The funds for this bill were supposed to come from farm conservation programs, but right-wing senators, acting for the livestock industry, objected.

The House hasn’t yet voted on this bill, which will supposedly help provide nutritious school lunches. However, the cutbacks that are also part of the bill will deny poor children food for their meals at home, refuse meals to entire families, and harm the nutrition and health of millions. Fifty congresspeople and many progressive groups, such as food program advocates, are opposing this legislation.

Combined, these bills would gut the SNAP program by $14.1 billion and be the first time Congress has voted to cut food stamps. The Food Research and Action Center says that the passage of both bills would reduce a family of four’s food stamp benefits by $59 per month, starting in November 2013. (frac.org)

Food stamps are a lifeline for many low-income workers and their families, including single mothers. Eighty percent of the funds go to families with children. The benefits are vital during this recession, with 30 million people officially unemployed or underemployed, and many more jobless not even counted.

Nationwide, a record 40.8 million people — one in every eight — currently receive SNAP benefits. In poorer states the number is one in five or six. There are 6.4 million more people on this program than one year ago. For many, this is their only income. The meager allotments average $140 a month or $4.50 per person per day.

While millions are hungry, it is devious and cruel for Congress to use the Food Stamp Program as an ATM to fund other programs. It is callous to pit teachers’ salaries against medical care and food programs for poor people, and it is unnecessary to do this.

Moreover, this shows the brutality of the capitalist government, which is more than willing to take away workers’ and poor people’s benefits and to create competition among them, when they all deserve funding.

This kind of legislation is aimed at pitting teachers and others also facing job cuts against those working-class families in the direst need. It is intended to undermine working-class solidarity. The government can and should fund jobs programs, health care services, public schools and food assistance benefits for everyone who needs them. The money is there.

Somehow, Congress found $1 trillion to bail out the banks. Somehow, Congress will find $850 billion to pay for the looming, gargantuan military budget. Congress helps the superrich and aids the corporations, which are again raking in megaprofits, by giving them tax loopholes like the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich.

This is not just an issue of bad legislation. It’s much bigger than legislation alone. The budget priorities and allocations that enrich the superwealthy, the banks and corporations at the expense of the workers and poor show that the government, including Congress, serves the interests of the capitalist class, not the people.

What’s needed to push this back is a mass struggle for funding for jobs, health care and food assistance for all. Labor unions and all progressive organizations and activists should join together, surround the Capitol and present comprehensive demands addressing all these needs.

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