Hunger as the solution

Cutting SNAP benefits needlessly hurts millions of Americans.

Matthew Hoy

The government downsized the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, Friday. SNAP assists 47.6 million Americans in affording food. This decision was made in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” shaving $5 billion off the tables of America’s poor.

Isn’t it an odd coincidence that “fiscal responsibility” never seems to mean raising taxes on massive corporations or the richest 1 percent of Americans? It never seems to mean ensuring that large companies, who use loopholes and deductions to pay a 12.6 percent tax rate, actually pay their mandatory 35 percent rate. Fiscal responsibility, if our politicians are to be believed, is not the burden of the rich; their wealth proves that they’ve been fiscally responsible.

Instead, our politicians have told us time and time again that if we are a nation that is to truly be fiscally responsible, we need to stop coddling the poor.

You may remember comments made by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan during the 2012 presidential campaign about proposed cuts to food stamps and Medicaid: “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

I’m sure you also remember former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” speech. Referring to anyone who had received government assistance, Romney asserted that “my job is not to worry about those people — I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

According to those on the right who label themselves proponents of fiscal responsibility, this issue comes down to good Americans (the makers) versus bad Americans (the takers).

I’ll let Paul Ryan sum it up: “About 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So, we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America, and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”

This framework caused our current food stamps debacle. It’s easy for our government to cut aid to the poorest Americans because those Americans do not have a voice in our government.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 87 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities. About two-thirds of those recipients are children, elderly or disabled themselves. Among SNAP recipients, 42 percent have gross incomes below half of the poverty line. There’s a reason SNAP is called the “nation’s most important anti-hunger program.”

And this program, responsible for keeping 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, is our go-to for budget slashing. According to many on the right, we’re effectively doing these people a favor by teaching them to lift themselves up by their boot straps. After all, each and every one of them is likely a “taker.”

Except that “the overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so,” according to the CBPP. More than half of all SNAP recipients were employed while receiving benefits; 82 percent were employed the previous or following year.

The numbers just don’t support the right’s narrative. Neither does any legitimate theory of social justice. This situation is simply class warfare. It inflicts hunger on millions of Americans whose situations either in the workforce or in their personal lives dictate that they cannot afford to eat.