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‘Let them eat cake’

October 2, 2013

Food stamps, now called SNAP (short for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), are in the news because the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to slash nearly $40 billion from the program, which provides some measure of food security for nearly 48 million low-income Americans. (By comparison, the Senate, earlier this year, passed a measure that would trim about $4.5 billion in SNAP spending.) Under the House plan, an estimated 3.8 million people would lose SNAP benefits completely, while another 850,000 would see their benefits cut, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Over the years, SNAP, one of the nation’s premier antipoverty programs, has been successful at keeping millions of people from falling into poverty—needy families with children, senior citizens, veterans, active-duty military, and working parents earning low wages. Most recently, SNAP helped make a significant difference in the lives of the unemployed who were unable to find work during the recent economic downturn known as the Great Recession.

While the House majority (the vote was 217 to 210) apparently believes that the recession is over and that their bill will help force people out of the food stamps program and into well-paying jobs, America’s working class lives in a different reality. They see an economy that is still in the doldrums, with nobody in Washington, DC doing anything about it (unless you consider this House bill as doing something about it). Sadly, this House solution favors the stick approach rather than the carrot. Only people with full bellies, who don’t have to worry about how to put their family’s next meal on the table, would propose these kinds of cuts in these economic times. (It almost makes one yearn for the bygone days of compassionate conservatism.)

One bright note in the House vote was the group of 15 House Republicans who bravely broke ranks with their GOP colleagues to vote against the bill. Among their number was our own Rep. Chris Gibson, R-NY, and we would like to salute him. (Pennsylvania’s Rep. Tom Marino, on the other hand, predictably voted with the majority.)

Perhaps Rep. Gibson’s decision to vote as he did took into consideration the difficult numbers from his own district regarding poverty. Perhaps he was taking to heart new census figures that were released in September. They reveal that last year 46.5 million Americans were living at or below the poverty line—nearly the highest level in two decades. This number represents 15% of the nation’s population (11.8% of families), and the rate is up 2.5% since just before the economic downturn began.