By Randy Rosenthal
The US Department of Agriculture has proposed restricting access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as “food stamps”) on the ostensible grounds that it is necessary to close a loophole in the program. But the real reason, it appears, is an ideological commitment to lowering taxes on the rich and cutting government spending on the poor.
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Back in 1964, President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty, which aimed to eradicate the conditions of poverty by providing American citizens with access to food, education, and a secure retirement. Today, the Trump Administration is leading a War against the Poor, which aims to do the opposite. The most recent and blatant act in this war is the US Department of Agriculture’s proposal to restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.
On July 23, the USDA released a statement about the proposal, which aims to save $2.5 billion by taking 3 million people off of food stamps. The statement doesn’t mention it, but 500,000 of these people are children who will automatically lose access to free school lunches.
The ostensible rationale behind the proposal is that there is “a loophole” that needs to be closed: low income participants receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible for food stamps. Because of this policy, which is designed to help transition families toward economic independence, the USDA claims that people are receiving assistance when they clearly don’t need it. To support this claim, they point to a Minnesota man who enrolled in the program, even though he was a millionaire. Continue reading
by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
A recent bulletin from the Southern Education Foundation reports that, for the first time in fifty years, a majority of students in US public schools come from low-income families. The data, collected for the 2012–13 school year, considers a family low income on the basis of whether the children register for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches to students. Figures show that 51% of students in US public schools, ranging from pre-kindergarten through the twelfth grade, were eligible for the lunch program. While poor students are spread across the US, the highest rates of poor and low-income families are concentrated in the Southern and Western states. In twenty-one states, at least half the public school children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. In Mississippi, more than 70% of students were from low-income families. In Illinois, 50%—one of every two students—were low-income.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
While the attention of the country has been riveted on President Obama’s proposals to launch missile strikes in Syria, hidden in the shadows, the House of Representatives has been busily preparing an attack of its own. This attack will not be directed against a foreign government accused of massacring innocent civilians with chemical weapons. Rather, it will be launched right here at home, and its targets are our fellow citizens, whose crime is simply being poor and dependent on federal assistance in order to eat and feed their families. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
This past Friday, Bill Moyers hosted a conversation of the type we need to hear more often on the problem of hunger in America. The program featured a long interview with Kristi Jacobson and Mariana Chilton that revolved around their new documentary, A Place at the Table, which Jacobson directed and produced and in which Chilton plays a prominent role. Though I have not yet seen the film myself, Moyers calls it “one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in years.” Continue reading
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
The Farm Bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that guides and authorizes funding for federal farm and food policies, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as food stamps. Every five years, Congress renews the Farm Bill. The last time the bill was renewed was in 2008, and this year it is up for reauthorization.
Last month versions of the bill emerged from the Agricultural Committees of the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Both versions make devastating cuts to SNAP, demonstrating a degree of cruelty that is both shocking and shameful on the part of those who are supposed to represent us in crafting public policy. On May 14th, by a vote of 15 to 5, the Senate’s Agricultural Committee passed its version of the bill (S 954) with cuts to SNAP of $4 billion over the next ten years. Two days later, on May 16th, the House of Representatives proved even more callous with a version of the bill (HR 1947) that would cut SNAP by $20.5 billion over ten years. If a bill were to be passed in line with either version, it would in effect be pulling plates of food off the tables of hungry kids. And this from the same Congress that obstinately insists on preserving tax cuts for multi-millionaires and grants subsidies to giant agricultural corporations.