Congress is back in Washington, meaning that the House of Representatives will soon be able to resume its cherished function in our democracy: casting symbolic votes to slash federal spending on the poor. In particular, Majority Leader Eric Cantor is pushing a Republican plan to cleave at least $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—aka food stamps—over the next ten years, a reduction the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says would push some 4 to 6 million Americans off its rolls.
As The New York Times noted in a weekend editorial, the GOP is making this crusade at a time when some 14.5 percent of U.S. households are having trouble putting meals on the table due to their finances. That's according to a new report this month from the Department of Agriculture, which found the rate of food insecurity last year was essentially unchanged from 2011. About 5.7 percent of households suffered from "very low food security," meaning among other things that they were actually forced to cut portion sizes or entire meals for lack of cash.
Households dealing with food insecurity don't necessarily suffer day in and day out. Rather, they might be dealing with these issues intermittently, or a few days out of every month.
But the bottom line is that some 49 million Americans live in a situation where getting fed isn't necessarily a guarantee.
There are just two observations I'd like to make here. First, it's notable that, much like the poverty rate, the hunger quotient in this country has barely budged since the economy supposedly began to heal (at least so far as the government's most up-to-date statistics can tell us). Much has been made about how the benefits of the recovery have gone disproportionately to top earners. But this is also a reminder that, for the least fortunate strata of the country, there hasn't really be a recovery to speak of at all.
Second: This is the state of hunger in the United States with the food stamp program intact. Already, Washington doesn't do enough to totally mitigate the problem (remember, in 2012, the maximum benefit for a family of three worked out to $5.75 per person per day.) The USDA estimates that about half of the households that received federal nutrition assistance still suffered some amount of food insecurity. And yet, one of our major political parties wants to yank the dinner plate away from 6 million more Americans.
But hey, at least there's still plenty of money in the budget to doll out to wealthy farmers.
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