Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Robbing the Poor Instead of Cutting Corporate Welfare

States are begging for federal aid. And this week, the Senate is voting on an aid package that would give states Medicaid dollars, as well as money to keep teachers on the payroll. There is a catch. The money for this aid will be taken from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly known as food stamps.

That's right. To pass this aid package, the Senate is willing to take food away from children and families:

But to gain the votes of the Republicans necessary for passage, the bill includes “pay fors” to make it deficit-neutral. There is language to close a foreign tax credit loophole, raising $9 billion. Billions more come from tinkering with Medicaid drug prices and rescinding unspent funds from a variety of programs. But controversially, the bill will also likely slash $6.7 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the benefits formerly known as food stamps. This might result in a cut in benefit checks from one month to the next — an unprecedented event in the history of the benefit.

American food stamps are not generous, averaging only $4.50 a day even after being bumped up in the recession-era stimulus — less than you’d need to buy two meals at McDonald’s. And since the start of the recession, the number of families depending on them has skyrocketed. The economic crisis has pushed 12.9 million people into SNAP; as of April, more than 40 million collect the bare-bones benefits. More than 6 million Americans report no income whatsoever except for SNAP — because they are not eligible for unemployment insurance, Social Security, disability or other programs.

Still, the suggestion caused outrage on the Hill. The House Appropriations Committee originated the education-jobs provision in a war supplemental bill, and in an interview with the Fiscal Times, its chair, Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), first revealed that the White House had suggested cutting SNAP early in the summer.

“We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here,” he said.

It ain't easy to find offsets? He's joking, right?

But this is also a question of priorities, of what gets cut. Bernie Sanders put up an amendment last month to cut about $35 billion in oil and gas subsidies. It failed. Republicans are arguing to extend Bush's tax cuts for the rich with no offsets, and they may well succeed. But food assistance for poor families? You can get the votes to slash those.

How can this be? Sadly, it all comes down to money and influence:

The oil and gas industry, of which BP is a member, reported $169 million in 2009 lobbying expenditures.

Poor people spent $0 on lobbying.

Originally posted at Main St/workingamerica.org

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