Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
On Wednesday of last week, the same day that I was writing my recent blogpost highlighting the need not to make cuts to food stamps–“Nourishing Change,” published August 1st–the New York Times published an article about the likely impact that cuts in funding for food stamps would have on the poor. I only got to see the Times article Friday afternoon (August 2nd) through a link sent to me in an email. While my post was written independently, the Times article confirms my case.
The article, “House Plan on Food Stamps Would Cut 5 Million From Program,” by Ron Nixon, features a study released on Tuesday by the Health Impact Project in Washington, which points out that if the House proposal to cut food stamps by $20.5 billion were enacted, 5 million people would lose eligibility for the program. Of these, a half million do not even get enough to eat now, with the aid of food stamps. An additional 160,000 to 305,000 recipients who do get enough to eat would also lose their eligibility and the ability to adequately feed themselves.
Although the House version of the Farm Bill (which included the proposed reduction in funding for SNAP, the food stamps program) failed to muster sufficient votes to pass, it seems unlikely that the ideologues in the House have given up on their campaign. It’s more probable that in the next round of negotiations they will start off by demanding their $20.5 billion cut and then try to force their opponents to settle for a smaller but still substantial reduction in funding for the program. The problem is that any reduction will have a traumatic impact on low-income families. In these tough times, with so many barely scraping by, food stamps need more funding, not less.
The health impact study shows that cuts to the program could prove not merely painful but lethal. Not only would reductions in food aid impair the ability of low-income households to feed themselves, but among adults they would lead to increases in potentially fatal illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Children would also suffer higher rates of asthma and depression, not to speak of an inability to focus at school. According to the report, health care costs to treat patients with diabetes alone could increase by nearly $15 billion over the next 10 years. This is almost four times the amount of the cuts to food stamps proposed in the Senate version of the bill and three-fourths of the draconian cuts House conservatives have tried to impose.
A 2011 report on “The Human Cost of Socioeconomic Disparities,” issued by Chair Bernie Sanders of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging (belonging to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions), already underscored the danger to health posed by poor nutrition. The 2011 report points out that poverty and inadequate nutrition are responsible not only for a degraded quality of life but for premature death: “This is the first time in our history that children born in certain parts of the United States of America can expect to live shorter lives than their parents’ generation.” A study published in the June 2011 issue of the American Journal of Public Health determined that in the United States in 2000, 133,000 people died due to poverty. This figure is likely to be much higher today because of the Great Recession and the increase in population.
While many Republicans claim the SNAP program is rife with fraud, the Agriculture Department denies this, stating that fraud rates are low and that the people who receive the benefits need them because of a sagging economy. The Times quotes Kevin Concannon, under-secretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services at the Agriculture Department: “These are the poorest of the poor. In many cases, these are people who are working who just can’t make ends meet.”
A typical example is Christine Tucker, 46, a mother of four in Queens, who works as a health aide. She began receiving food stamps in April and says: “It’s a big help. If it goes, I don’t know what is going to happen. After paying rent and other bills, there is often nothing left for food.”
There are actions you can take to help save the lives of our brothers and sisters in need by preserving the Food Stamp Program.
Please call your two senators and representative:
1. Ask them NOT to make cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamp Program). Tell them that peoples’ lives and health depend on this program.
2. Ask them to move the money from the military to humanitarian needs.
You can reach your senators and representative at the Capitol Switchboard – 202 224-3121. If you do not know who they are, give the operator your state and zip code, and you will be connected. Please forward this alert to others and ask them to do the same.
Thanks are due to David Mortensen, Chair of the August 9 Saving Lives Task Force, a partner affiliated with New Jersey Peace Action, for sending me the link to the New York Times article, excerpts from the Senate report on “The Human Cost of Socioeconomic Disparities,” and the guidelines for taking action.