Washington Memo: Taking the most from those with the least
I recently received a heartbreaking letter from a constituent. She is 28 years old. She has a disability and is an orphan, with no family to fall back on. She is the mother of a toddler and also working toward two undergraduate degrees while trying to find a job. She stretches modest federal food assistance to help feed herself and her child, and she still has to visit her local food bank to get by.
The young woman’s story is heart-wrenching but far from rare. In New Hampshire and all across the country, there are people like her – single-mothers, homeless veterans and proud seniors – who struggle every day to put food on their tables and who rely on nutrition assistance to help feed their families.
Yet last week, House Republicans passed a bill that would gut nutrition assistance and deliver a painful blow to families like hers. The Republican proposal slashes funding for our country’s bedrock food assistance program by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years, eviscerating a program that serves some of our state’s most vulnerable.
Last year, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helped feed 47 million people, including more than 100,000 Granite Staters. Despite providing average monthly benefits of roughly $130, it helped lift roughly 4.7 million Americans – including 2.1 million children – out of poverty in 2011.
These are our friends, neighbors, children, parents and veterans. For most of them, this food assistance means the difference between going hungry or barely making ends meet.
Still, a majority of my Republican colleagues have now voted for a proposal that would make reckless cuts to this nutrition program and put millions of Americans at risk of hunger and poverty.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the Republican plan would result in nearly 4 million Americans losing their nutrition benefits. Another 1.7 million Americans would see their benefits cut by more than half every month. And more than 200,000 children would lose access to free school lunches.
Astonishingly, and most insidious of all, some members of Congress who support these drastic cuts have actually benefited from millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded agricultural subsidies.
We absolutely need to reduce the deficit and get back to balanced budgets. But can’t we agree that this isn’t the right approach? Can’t we agree that asking so much of our veterans, children and seniors before asking more of corporate agribusiness is just wrong? Can’t we agree that we should reduce the deficit by making targeted, thoughtful cuts that are consistent with our priorities and our values?
In her letter, my constituent said that we need to balance the budget, but not at the expense of hungry families. I couldn’t agree more. Since taking office, I have supported legislation that could cut hundreds of billions of dollars in waste without undermining nutrition assistance for children. The notion that we have to choose between cutting spending and protecting hungry and low-income Americans is a fallacy. We can and must do both.
For years, nutrition assistance for hungry families has enjoyed strong, bipartisan support. Both parties have long-recognized how important our social safety net is to ensuring that all Americans have an opportunity to succeed and achieve the American dream.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I’ve worked hard to block deep cuts to nutrition assistance while also reigning in subsidies to corporate agriculture. If we put America’s families first, I continue to believe that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, make smart cuts, and protect hungry families. That’s what Granite Staters are counting on, and that’s the approach I will continue to fight for every day I am in Congress.
(Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, represents New Hampshire’s 2nd District.)