Friday, May 31, 2013

Simply shameful

     It is not a joke and hardly laughable that our elected officials seem to believe that the best way to reduce the federal deficit is to take money from the poorest of the poor. The politics of austerity has become the politics of absurdity.

     The U.S. House of Representatives Agricultural Committee is proposing more deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The consideration seems to be only how much to cut without considering the economic effects of those cuts. This ignores the evidence that cutting food stamps doesn’t save money—it actually costs money in added public health expenses and lost job creation.

     The Congressional Budget Office ranks an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the top two most cost-effective spending and tax options for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, “On average, $1 billion of retail food demand by SNAP recipients generates 3,300 farm jobs.” Its 2011 study also found, “Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates a total of $9.20 in community spending.”

     Christopher D. Cook, author of the book “Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis,” writes in the Los Angeles Times that when more than 15 percent of Americans remain impoverished, slashing food assistance for the poor makes no sense in humanitarian, economic or public health terms. Pushing millions of low-income Americans off food subsidies will mean less nutrition and nourishment, and lead to greater human suffering and healthcare costs.

     According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “good nutrition can help lower risk for many chronic diseases.”

     Despite the perception that food stamps are commonly used for luxuries, CBO and USDA research has found that millions of Americans live in households in which one or more persons had to skip meals or otherwise eat less because they lacked the money for food.

     The House Agriculture Committee’s recommended cuts will be the equivalent of taking away 14 meals per month for a family of four. Three times more SNAP beneficiaries work than collect welfare. Most food stamp recipients are disabled, elderly or children. The committee would resolve its concerns about future generations of needy people by eliminating 210,000 school lunches today.

     Food needs aside, cutting SNAP means reducing economic stimulus and job creation, precisely what's needed to help reduce poverty and hunger. But those are just financial calculations.

     Cutting off basic supports for those at the bottom of our economy is not only unwise and counterproductive—it’s simply shameful.

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