More Hunger for the Poorest Americans
Published: December 24, 2013
This is a harsh season for Americans struggling to afford food. Last month, the long lines at food pantries across the country grew longer with the expiration of the boost to food stamp benefit levels included in the 2009 economic stimulus plan. Those lines are apt to grow even longer thanks to the refusal of House Republicans to renew extended unemployment benefits as part of the recent budget deal.
And if that isn’t sufficient pain for the neediest, Congress is getting ready to make another big cut to nutrition aid when it returns in early January.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat of Michigan and the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Representative Frank Lucas, a Republican of Oklahoma who leads the House Agriculture Committee, are close to a deal on a farm bill that is said to include an increase in crop insurance subsidies for farmers and a more than $8 billion cut in food stamp benefits for the poor over the next 10 years.
That cut, about double the one contained in the Senate version of the farm bill, is more modest than the devastating $40 billion reduction in the farm bill passed by House Republicans that would have denied benefits to about 3.8 million people in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The House bill would also impose drug-testing, work requirements and other conditions, which are not expected to be included in the compromise bill. Still, the compromise deal, driven by the Republican obsession with cutting the food stamps program, will leave many Americans worse off than before.
The deal being finalized would not kick people off the rolls, but it would end a practice used in some 16 states to boost food stamp benefits. That change would reduce benefits for 850,000 of the nation’s poorest households, according the Congressional Budget Office, with the cut falling particularly hard on seniors, disabled people and working-poor families with children.
The households affected currently receive higher food stamp benefits (on average around $90 a month) under a practice known as “heat-and-eat,” which is intended to prevent poor families from having to choose between heating fuel and food. States employing this practice trigger the increased food assistance by providing selected households a nominal amount of fuel aid (as little as $1 per year), regardless of whether they actually pay utility bills.
This gaming of the system has had the positive effect of giving some hard-pressed families in high-cost areas like New York City help with their overall household budget, but it has also provided a talking point for critics bent on gutting the food stamps program.
The proposed Senate-House deal would require states to pay $20 a year to trigger the higher benefits. Some states will likely decline to increase their subsidies to that amount, so to achieve the bill’s projected savings benefits would have to be taken away from many poor families.
The right fix would be to take any savings and devote it along with other new financing to make sure basic food needs of the poorest families are met. Some Democratic lawmakers and antihunger advocates say the $8 billion cut being contemplated in the compromise deal is necessary to get the food stamps program reauthorized by both the Senate and House and that keeping the cuts to that level would be a political defeat for right-wing Republicans, who sought to do much more damage. That may be true, but it’s not much consolation for people lining up at food pantries because their inadequate monthly food stamps allotment has run out.
- Editorial: More Hunger for the Poorest Americans (nytimes.com)
- The poorest Americans may continue to starve (voiceofrussia.com)
- Good Poor, Bad Poor – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Demand for food stamps soars as cuts sink in and shelves empty (rinf.com)
- The Insanity of Our Food Policy – Joseph Stiglitz – NYTimes.com (underpaidgenius.com)
- Food Pantries Strained By Federal Cuts (wnyc.org)
- Food Stamp Costs Are Decreasing Without The GOP’s Cuts (motherjones.com)
- Food Stamp Costs Swelled by States Spending $1 for Heat – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Begala: GOP turns its back on the hungry (cnn.com)
- Tough Thanksgiving for Food Stamp Families (thenation.com)