Starving them Out: Food Stamps and the GOP’s War on the Poor
Paul Krugman writes that the GOP’s hostility towards the poor and unfortunate has become an all-out “war on the poor.” The consequences of the painful cuts to food stamps taking effect today offer a glimpse of the casualties and collateral damage to come.
Today, millions of American families are being pushed over the “hunger cliff,” as the food stamp program is cut by $5 billion due to the expiration of funding increases from the 2009 stimulus. The increase was triggered by the influx of Americans into the program, in the aftermath of the financial crisis and ensuing recession, and was meant to expire when the crisis passed and demand for assistance returned to normal levels.
But for one in seven Americans — including 15.9 million children, and 925,000 seniors — in “food insecure households, the crisis never passed. What was already a daily struggle to get enough to eat will become even harder today.
Food stamp benefits weren’t terribly generous before the latest cuts; just $1.70 per meal, for the whole month. Most recipients could only make benefits last three weeks, with no room for extras. The cuts taking effect today will reduce monthly benefits for a family of four by $36. These families could find it hard to make their benefits last even two weeks.
Hand to Mouth
For Americans already living hand-to-mouth, the longest walk will be the one down the grocery store aisle.
For Annie Crist, the cut to food stamps will mean less food for her two daughters.
Annie Crist says she dreads telling her two daughters that cuts in food-stamp benefits taking effect today means less chicken and fewer hamburgers for dinner.
… “I don’t bother them or worry them with adult issues or adult problems,” Crist, a 30-year-old self-employed babysitter in Lancaster, Ohio, southeast of Columbus, said in a telephone interview. “But if they ask me, ‘Well, why can’t we get this? We always get this,’ how am I going to explain that?”
… Crist said her budget leaves little room for extras. The $547 a month she received in food benefits for herself and her daughters, ages 13 and 8, will become $497 today, as a roughly 5 percent benefit cut takes effect nationwide. With utilities and other expenses, she said she will be spending less on fresh meats, fruits and vegetables at the grocery store.
Crist, a 30-year-old self-employed babysitter is just one of the 1.8 million Ohioans affected by the $5 billion cut to food stamps.
Annie Watson, a working single-mother of four recently signed up for food stamps after she lost one of the two jobs she was working after taking maternity leave.
Though she applied a few months ago, her approval won’t take effect until Nov. 1—coincidentally or not, the day the cuts kick in.
Watson, who works nights as a medical assistant at an assisted-living facility for the disabled, worries that the SNAP benefits won’t be enough to feed her kids, ages 15, 13, 4 and 3 months.
“The job is good with medical benefits, but not with the paycheck,” she said. “I’m always in the hole with bills. If I pay the rent I’m sacrificing the light. If I pay the light bill I’m sacrificing the gas bill. It’s always something.”
Watson is one of nearly 2 million New Yorkers bracing themselves for the cut to food stamps.
Lauren Nivens, a mother of two, worried about what would happen to her child’s health when the government shutdown threatened to close Maryland’s WIC program.
At a recent child wellness visit at Health Care for the Homeless, Nivens learned that her 15-month-old daughter, Morgan Carolina, isn’t growing as quickly as she should. The child is underweight at just 17 pounds, her pediatrician says, and only 30 inches tall.
So, to Nivens, the milk, bread, peanut butter and other foods she receives free through a federal program to feed the child have become even more crucial — at the same time that her continued access to them is in jeopardy.
Nivens said doctors and nurses have warned that if Morgan doesn’t grow healthy and strong, her brain development and ability to learn could be affected.
… “My daughter, she is underweight and striving to grow; it is important for me,” said Nivens, 29, who is living at the emergency shelter, Sarah’s Hope at Hannah More in Reisterstown.
“If my child doesn’t get WIC, she’s going to get sick, because she won’t get the proper nutrition,” Nivens said. “Food costs are high. I am one of those people who are struggling.”
Nivens is one of 800,000 Marylanders who will have even more trouble putting food on the table thanks the latest cut to food stamps.
For Crist, Watson, Nivens, and millions of Americans it’s only going to get harder. The House and Senate are negotiating a final version of the farm bill, which funds nutrition assistance programs. The Republican majority in the House passed a bill last month that would cut nearly $40 billion from food stamps over 10 years. The Senate bill cuts only a tenth as much.
Even in a best-case scenario, in which House Republicans agree to accept the Senate bill “as is,” it’s food stamps would still be cut by another $4 billion. The likelier outcome is that the House GOP will push for more cuts than the Senate bill contains, the Senate will “compromise” on a bill that cuts less than the House wanted but more than the Senate passed, and both sides will declare “victory.”
What’s even more bewildering, at first, is that the states that will be hardest hit by the latest cuts to food stamps are represented by Republicans who advocate for even deeper cuts. Eleven of the thirteen states with the highest rates of children living in poverty are below the Mason-Dixon line. Of those, ten are Southern states where conservative economic policies have devastated state and local economies.
These ten states, Alan Singer points out, have GOP-controlled state governments, and largely Republican representation in Congress. Combined, the eleven states send 18 Republicans and four Democrats to the Senate, and they have a 90 to 36 advantage in the House GOP delegation. Those ninety Southern Republicans make up almost forty percent of the GOP’s House majority, and three-quarters of the tea party caucus that pushed the for the GOP’s hostage-taking tactics on the deb ceiling and health care reform.
Not only are the governments and White voters in these states anti-poor, anti-government, anti-tax, and anti-child, they are specifically anti-poor Black child. Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and North Carolina are among the states with the highest percentage of Black population, while Texas and Florida have large underserved and under represented Latino populations. One hundred and fifty-years after the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution ended slavery in the United States, we are looking at the remnants of slavery, segregation, and racism in the South and its continuing pernicious influence over the national government.
Consider that the food stamp cuts taking effect today will affect about 4.7 million African-American households, and that many of those African-American families reside in Southern state with the highest percentage of African-Americans. It becomes a little less bewildering.
Paul Krugman isn’t just “whistling Dixie” when he cites socialist Daniel Little, who says that race is “the stain that won’t go away.” Krugman points to a Democracy Corps report on focus groups with members of Republican factions, which revealed that the GOP base is “very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority,” and think that “too much welfare” is a “black thing” — a stereotype that not only serves to mask the problems of low-income whites, but doesn’t have any basis in reality. A 2012 USDA report showed that 36 percent food stamp recipients are white, 22 percent are African-American, and 10 percent are Latino.
At the beginning of his column Krugman writes of Ohio Republican governor John Kasich’s efforts to expand Medicaid despite opposition from his own party. Krugman quotes Kasich’s response to his fellow Republicans, “I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That, if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy.”
Krugman goes on to point out that the states where Republican governors have rejected health care reform’s Medicaid expansion are those that stand to gain the most from the expansion, and that those states are rejecting Medicaid expansion that would disproportionately help poor blacks.
The same can be said of food stamps. The states with the most to gain from funding the food stamp program are represented by Republicans who advocate for even deeper cuts. And, yes, the food stamp program those state’s representatives are in favor of cutting would disproportionately help poor black in some (especially urban) areas, In rural areas, where people depend on food stamps to make ends meet, recipients are more likely to be low-income whites.
So, the GOP’s war on the poor continues apace, and the latest tactic is to starve them out. The casualties and collateral damage are just beginning.