Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 5

Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits to be cut in November

Here's a little something I bet you didn't know: Come November, the 22 million American households involving 47 million people who rely Food Stamps will see their benefits cut. The average household's monthly benefit will drop by $20 to $25.

The general public doesn't realize it, the low income people on the program don't realize it, and Congress has no interest in, or intention of, doing a damn thing about it.

It's happening because in 2009 there was a 13% boost in benefits as part of the stimulus bill and that boost is expiring. The original idea was to let inflation catch up with the increase over time so that when the stimulus ended, recipients would not experience a dollar reduction in their benefits. Nice idea, which of course got screwed up: The Obama gang needed money to offset the cost of a series of spending bills. They said at the time they would replace the money later, but they never did.

Now, there's no chance of doing it as the debate in Congress over current funding for the Food Stamp program - which, by the way, is now formally called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but lots of folks still call it food stamps - but the debate isn't over whether to cut the program, but by how much and what sort of onerous or degrading conditions can be required of recipients.

There are proposals for additional work requirements, for example, under the ever-popular classist* notion that poor people are just lazy and what they really need is to be instructed in "the dignity of work." Rep. Steve Southerland calls it "moral reformation." This despite the fact that 92% of recipients are children, the elderly, disabled, or people who are already working.

Other ideas floating around include eliminating automatic food stamp eligibility for people who are enrolled in certain other benefit programs, turning the whole program into block grants, which essentially means going "hey, states, here's some money, do what you want with it, but if you wanna use it for food stamps, that's okay too," and another repeat offender, drug testing recipients under the ever-popular classist notion that poor people are just lazy and drug addicts.

If there's no agreement, Congress may have to extend current the farm law - and the current levels of spending for SNAP which is part of it - when it expires at the end of September.

Be that as it may, that November cut is still coming. A cut of $25 may not seem like much, but think of it this way: The current maximum monthly benefit for a family of four is $668. A 30-day month and three meals a day is 360 meals per month - so the benefit is a princely $1.86 per person per meal. (And then the ignorant, sneering buffoons wonder why people are buying cheap, processed, but filling foods rather than expensive fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains and so on.) Which also means a cut of $25 a month is 13 or 14 meals a month that someone going to have to skip.

And it adds up over time. According to the calculations of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there are about 870,000 people in Massachusetts who will be impacted by these cuts, cuts which will over the period November 2013 to October 2014 total about $61,000,000.

And we're doing this at a time when, according to a recent study, three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Seventy-six percent of American families have less than six months’ worth of savings to their name. Half have less than three months emergency savings and more than a quarter have no savings at all.

And we're doing all this at a time when a new survey by the Associated Press reveals that four out of five US adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

It's called "economic insecurity" and it's defined as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as Food Stamps, or having an income below 150% of the poverty line. By the time they reach 60, 79% of American adults have experienced economic insecurity at some point in their lives. Even among whites, whose rates of poverty and unemployment are persistently far below those of minorities, the experience of economic insecurity has touched 76% of them by that point in their lives. In fact, hardship among whites is growing faster than it is among minorities - which may well be because those minorities already had less to lose, with poverty rates much higher than those of whites, but it doesn't change the impact on the affected families.

The overall poverty rate remains stubbornly stuck at 15%, but equally significantly, Census Bureau figures say that about 40% of adults will live in poverty for at least one year of their lives.

An analysis to be published next year by the Oxford University Press shows that by a number of different measures, racial disparities in areas such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are shrinking - but not because blacks and Hispanics are doing better but because white are doing worse. We are increasingly all in the same boat - and it's leaking.

AP calls all this "a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream." I call it the next phase of the class war being waged by the rich against the rest.

Meanwhile, rich investors say that it takes at least $5 million to feel wealthy and two-thirds of millionaires don’t consider themselves to be rich as Congress says what the hungry need is "moral reform" and McDonald's grandly insists that of course their employees can make it on $8.25 an hour - they just need to get a second job, never get sick, and not require food or clothing.

This is the economy we are living in today. And it's not going to change unless and until we get mad enough to do something about it and I don't mean taking a job retraining course or signing up at DeVry University. I mean changing the very nature of our economy to promote cooperation over competition and the be more concerned with social value than personal greed.

I'll have more on that as time goes on.

*"Classism" is defined as contempt for the poor.


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