Editorial: Cuts in food assistance increase misery
The cans are on the store counters. Charitable appeals drop through the mail slot daily. But the reality is, that no matter how much Good Samaritans put in the can or the bell-ringer’s kettle, no matter how big a check they write to a soup kitchen or food bank, it will never be enough to offset the cuts Republicans have forced on the food stamp system. And that’s just in the first round of $40 billion in cuts to come over the next decade to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps feed some 47 million Americans, if Republicans get their way. The Democratic version of the stalled farm bill calls for $4 billion in cuts, most from programs other than SNAP.
To make up for last month’s $5 billion in cuts created with the expiration of more generous benefits granted during the recession, the nation’s food pantries will have to increase the amount of food they distribute by at least half. That’s a goal most don’t expect to meet, so this promises to be a hungry holiday season for at least 5 million households.
Nearly half of all food stamp recipients – benefits are no longer distributed in the form of stamps but electronic benefit cards – are children. An additional 20 percent or so are elderly or disabled. They are the nation’s most vulnerable, and the nutrition assistance they received before the cuts was inadequate to ensure health and keep hunger at bay. In most food stamp households, the larder is bare and the fridge empty long before month’s end.
The cuts, ostensibly made in the name of encouraging work and self-sufficiency, are not just cruel but profoundly counterproductive. As Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote in The New York Times recently, they are just one aspect of an illogical American policy toward food.
Every year, taxpayers pay billions of dollars in farm subsidies, most of which go to wealthy individuals and corporations. The subsidies encourage some farmers to plant too much of a crop like corn and reward others for not growing crops they had no intention of growing. They depress global food prices, push subsistence farmers off the land and into cities, increase soil loss and destroy native grasslands and other habitat.
Meanwhile, SNAP allots a person with no income $4 per day for food. Recipients with incomes, even if the income is too small to cover rent and heat, get reduced nutritional assistance. The subsidies make unhealthy products like sugar and corn syrup cheap. That promotes obesity among the poor, which too often leads to diabetes, cancer and heart disease, an outcome that costs taxpayers a fortune in health care costs. Minimal food assistance means that children often go hungry and hungry children can’t pay attention in school. They’re unlikely to achieve their potential, which means that they will earn less, pay less in taxes and require more public assistance. That waste makes us a less strong, and less compassionate, nation.
America’s food policy, Stiglitz says, “actually distorts our economy by promoting the kind of production we don’t need and shrinking the consumption of those with the smallest incomes. There is no moral justification either: It actually increases misery and precariousness of daily life for millions of Americans,” Stiglitz says of the Republican-backed farm bill. “For these proposals to become law would be a moral and economic failure for the country.”
The cuts are already doing damage, so if you can, give generously to food banks, pantries and soup kitchens. And tell every member of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to reject the misguided farm bill and craft one that makes sense.