August 2010, Week 4


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Wed, 25 Aug 2010 22:09:54 -0400
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Food Stamps are Latest Casualty of Senate Budget

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
the grio
August 19, 2010


People line up to talk with case workers at the
Illinois Department of Human Services in Champaign,
Ill. on Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/David Mercer)

National priorities are determined by the manner in
which a nation allocates its limited resources; how and
where it spends its money. At the end of July Congress
passed a $33 billion supplemental war bill for
President Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan. This past
Tuesday the president signed a multibillion-dollar
bailout bill for cash-strapped states but cut $12
billion from future food stamp funding to help pay for
it. Proponents of this measure argue that using food
stamp funding in order to save public sector jobs such
as teachers, police officers, and firefighters at the
state level is a valid trade-off.

Now the Senate is at it again. To pay for the $8
billion Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act,
the Senate has agreed to trim the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as
food stamps. According to the Huffington Post, "In
April 2009 the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
boosted monthly benefits under SNAP by 13.6 percent. As
economic misery has worsened, participation in SNAP has
risen since then from 34.4 million to 40.8 million as
of May 2010. That's one of every seven Americans" or
approximately 41 million people.

As the economy has worsened the need for these benefits
has increased dramatically. Currently, the average
benefit is $133.77 per month. If the Senate has its
way, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)
estimates that a family of four will receive $59 less
per month starting in November 2013.

In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on
Poverty. This was in response to a national poverty
rate of around nineteen percent. By placing poverty at
the forefront of the American psyche Johnson was able
to champion historic legislation that reallocated
national resources in order to address poverty at its
core. Programs such as Head Start, food stamps, work
study, Medicare and Medicaid, were implemented and many
still exist today.

In spite of President Johnson's herculean efforts,
according to Reuters the U.S. poverty rate hit its
highest level in 11 years in 2008 as the worst
recession since the Great Depression threw millions of
Americans out of work. The government defines poverty
as an annual income of $22,025 for a family of four,
$17,163 for a family of three and $14,051 for a family
of two. The Census Bureau said the poverty rate -- the
percentage of people living in poverty -- jumped to
13.2 percent, the highest level since 1997, from 12.5
percent in 2007. In spite of these realities, Congress
is passing and the president is signing into law
legislation that is taking resources away from those
who need it most at the time they are most in need.

According to the US Census Bureau, 36 million people
live below the poverty line in America, including 13
million children. According to the Bread for the World
Institute, 14.6% of U.S. households struggle to put
enough food on the table. More than 49 million
Americans--including 16.7 million children--live in
these households.

In March 2010 the Obama administration announced the
implementation of the Supplemental Poverty Measure, a
new and more accurate portrayal of America's poor. The
poverty formula from Johnson's War on Poverty failed to
account for the increase of modern day expenses such as
child care, health care, commuting, housing, and other
expenses. As these standards are put in place, the
numbers should only get worse. According to the
Christian Science Monitor, "experts expect the new
poverty measure will increase the percentage of people
classified as poor, especially among elderly Americans.
Poverty rates will probably increase from 13.2 percent,
or 39.8 million people, to 15.8 percent, or 47.4
million, reports the Associated Press." In spite of
these realities, Congress is passing and the president
is signing into law legislation that is taking
resources away from those who need it most at the time
they are most in need.

At a time when actual unemployment rates in America are
in the double digits and the American economy is in its
deepest recession in almost 70 years, Democratic
leaders in the Senate have agreed to cut funding to pay
for food assistance for working families, especially
children. They can agree to increase funding for an ill
advised war in Afghanistan but vote to cut funding for
a winnable war against poverty and hunger at home. As
Dr. King stated, we are, "compelled to see the war as
an enemy of the poor..." and we should attack it as
such. Instead of turning swords into ploughshares;
instead of ceasing to perpetuate war and start using
money to improve the lives of American citizens, the
Senate decides to continue making swords.


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