By Dave Johnson. This article was first published on ourfuture.org.
This is that time of year when newspapers bother to write about how there are hungry people in America. But this year is special. As the recession drags on for the non-1%, cuts in Food Stamps have completely swamped the capacity of food banks and other non-government assistance. Meanwhile pending cuts in unemployment compensation and even more cuts in Food Stamps and other assistance programs mean things will get much worse for millions of invisible Americans.
Have you heard about the Nov. 1 “Hunger Cliff?” On November 1 the Food Stamp program was cut. Millions of Americans are out of work, unemployment benefits have run out (and been cut), winter is arriving in force, but Congress allowed a temporary, recession-boosted increase in the Food Stamp program to run out! $5 billion in urgently-needed assistance just went away.
Terrance Heath told the story in 47 Million Americans Are Going Over the “Hunger Cliff”, writing “Millions of Americans will plunge over the “Hunger Cliff” tomorrow, when $5 billion in cut to food stamps go into effect tomorrow. While Congress negotiates even more cuts, millions of Americans will face negotiating where their next meal will come from.”
Food Banks Swamped
The “Hunger Cliff” has hit people hard. The cuts mean people just can’t get enough to eat. Hungry people are swamping the food banks.
A few stories are in the media, like MSNBC’s After the hunger cliff, a stark Thanksgiving,
Food pantries around the country are reporting a precipitous rise in the number of new visitors as people who were previously able to make do on food stamps get hit with cuts they can’t afford. It will be a long time before the effect of the cuts can be accurately quantified, but the raw numbers currently being reported are suggestive. Previously, many food stamp recipients were able to stretch their benefits until the third week of the month. Since November 1, they have been visiting pantries earlier, and in greater numbers.
Big corporate media might not care much, but local headlines from around the country can’t ignore what is happening:
Tampa, FL area: Pinellas food pantry struggling to keep shelves stocked,
Cedar Rapids, IA area: Food Pantry Demand Up as Benefit Cuts Take Hold,
Canton, OH area: Local food pantries seeing need in holiday season,
Savannah GA area: Six food pantries in Effingham report growing need,
Kansas City area: One area pantry says it has no food to give
San Francisco area: Holiday Rush Sets Record At SF Food Pantry,
Raliegh, NC area: Catholic food pantry in Raleigh gives out record amounts,
Central and Northeast Missouri area: Mobile food pantry sees large numbers in first months,
Stockton, CA area: Thousands cram Thanksgiving meal giveaway at Stockton food bank,
Indianapolis area: Food pantries predict longer lines as food stamps are cut,
How can the politicians in Washington DC let this happen, while continuing the massive tax breaks and subsidies to the largest corporations? (Terrance Heath again, Cut Corporate America’s Free Lunch, Not Food Stamps.)
Headlines Tell The Story Of The DC/Rest-Of-Us Divide
The headlines tell the story of the divide between the DC elites and the rest of the country:
September, 2012 Wapo: Seven of nation’s 10 most affluent counties are in Washington [DC] region
September, 2013 WSJ: Washington Sees Incomes Soar as Most of U.S. Declines.
September, 2013 Gallup Poll More Americans Struggle to Afford Food, “This is only the third time in 68 successive months of Gallup and Healthways’ tracking, which began in January 2008, that at least 20% of Americans said they struggled to afford food in the past year.”
November, 2013, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Cuts to Safety Net Programs Threaten Millions
Now Republicans are trying to cut another $40 billion from Food Stamps. (Senate Democrats passed a bill that “only” cuts another $4 billion.)
As if actual facts make a difference in the face of the DC/rest-of-us divide and the ongoing propaganda campaign from the cruel right. But here are some facts. (Note: SNAP is the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” commonly called Food Stamps.)
Food Stamps don’t go to lazy “able-bodied” minorities who refuse to work. According to Feeding America “76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.”
The program is not full of “fraud and abuse.” “SNAP error rates declined by 57% since FY2000, from 8.91% in FY2000 to a record low of 3.80% in FY2011. The accuracy rate of 96.2% (FY2011) is an all-time program high and is considerably higher than other major benefit programs.” And, “SNAP already has strict time-limits for unemployed workers. Able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) may only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits during any 3 year period, unless they are working in a qualifying job training program.”
According to the USDA, “Over 30 percent of SNAP households had earnings in 2011, and 41 percent of all SNAP participants lived in a household with earnings.”
The program is cutting its own spending as the effects of the recession slowly wind down: Food Stamp Costs Are Decreasing Without The GOP’s Cuts,
[C]aseloads have been stabilizing since 2011 and remained flat this year. Now, the Congressional Budget Office projects that, barring any major fiscal disasters, the food stamp budget is on track to return to 1995 levels in about five years, falling about two to five percent a year as the economy recovers. All this even if Congress doesn’t do anything to “reform” a program that kept nearly five million people (2.2 million of them children) out of poverty last year and is responsible for broad economic and public health gains.
What The Public Wants
May, 2013 Hart Research Poll: “Seven in 10 voters say that cutting food stamp funding is the wrong way to reduce government spending.”
But a November, 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that Republican voters overwhelmingly approve of cutting Food Stamps, while the rest of us do not,
By a margin of 67 percent to 25 percent, GOP voters registered their approval of cuts to the program that helps feed some 47 million Americans. Democrats, on the other hand, oppose the cuts by a similar margin, 67 percent to 28 percent. Independents are more evenly split, with 48 percent disapproving and 40 percent approving.
In a democracy with representative government it matters what the public wants. But in a plutocracy it doesn’t matter what the public wants. In a plutocracy it only matters what the wealthy few and their giant corporations want.
The Low-Wage, Hunger Game
Corporations can’t cut wages and say to working people, “There are plenty of hungry people just waiting to take your job, so shut up” if there aren’t plenty of hungry people just waiting to take any old nasty, humiliating, low-wage job. So as long as the wealthy few and their giant corporations are able to buy our government we can expect more high unemployment and cuts to programs that help feed people.