On the first of October families receiving a SNAP (food stamps) benefits saw a modest increase in their benefit due to the annual COLA adjustment. It is always a modest amount and seldom keeps pace with inflation, but it is an increase. So far so good, and it would be okay if that was where the story ended, but it’s not.
On the first of November the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) expires since Congress in its ultimate wisdom feels that it is no longer needed. The ARRA was a measure which increased the amount of SNAP benefits because of the weak economy which had forced many more people to depend on SNAP to keep food on the table.
Of course we all know that now that the economy is once again booming and there is hardly any need for such a benefit any longer…Oh wait.
Right now with the economy still in the doldrums and the jobs which are available those which do not pay a living wage there are 23 million households or 48 million people who rely on a SNAP benefit to eat. To the TEApublicans in Congress that translates to 48 million freeloaders without the ambition to support themselves. They are talking about further cuts to “get spending under control.”
According to the USDA the average household receiving SNAP is getting $275 per month — that is hardly a champagne and caviar food budget. When the cuts take place at the beginning of next month that amount will be reduced by about $36 per month.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but at current prices that translates to four whole chickens a month, or to put it another way, for a family of four that is four fewer meals a month. When you are getting just enough to eat, every single meal counts.
Even more troubling is the further cuts that the House wants to make in coming years, they passed a bill in September which cuts another $39 billion from the SNAP program over the next ten years. The Senate has a bill which makes less drastic cuts but the two bills have not yet been reconciled.
Contrary to what the TEApublicans would have us believe this is not a program used mainly by a lot of professional “welfare queens” it is used more and more by people who never thought that they would ever have to apply for government assistance. People like Angela Phillips, a 44-year-old divorcee who had always worked at good jobs as a paralegal and as an executive assistant, making as much as $45,000 per year. She is also an army veteran with a service related shoulder injury.
Then the economy went sour and she lost a whole string of jobs. She does what she can to economize, like eating very little when her children are with their father so as to put more food on the table when they are with her. Still, she cannot afford the things that she would like to feed them such as fresh fruits.
The woman who thought she would never need assistance had to apply for SNAP in the summer of 2012 while working part-time. She said, “It was a huge benefit for me to be able to know that I could feed my family.”
She has been working at a part-time job as a temporary lab assistant — job the work is sporadic and which pays her approximately $17,000 a year. That job has ended now and she will be applying for SNAP again but with the new reductions she does not know what she will be receiving. Her old benefit was $600, but that amount will now be reduced.
She is not alone. The truth is that hers is pretty much the typical story of those on the program today. They are not freeloaders — they are people who have always worked hard and taken care of themselves and their families. They do not want to be on SNAP, they want to work and be self-sufficient. If they could find a job that would pay the bills and put food on the table, they would gladly take it.
These are people who are already suffering and for who the Holidays are going to be a shadow of what they were once accustomed to, to deny them a decent holiday meal so that we can continue to give tax breaks to billionaires and handout corporate welfare to businesses which pay no taxes is not the attitude that made this a great nation.
There are plenty of places where we can make cuts, those that hurt the least among us is not the proper place to start.