This weekend, my friend Rainey Foster will be honored at the annual dinner of So Others May Eat, one of a number of terrific organizations in Washington that feed the hungry. It is an auspicious time for SOME to hold its dinner, because the number of people using its services is growing in this sluggish economy, and it will grow even more as the food-stamp program, known as SNAP, is cut further.
How much further, we do not know, as the farm-bill conference inches toward a possible resolution after a three-year-plus deadlock that may set the gold standard for dysfunction in governance. What we do know is that the farm-bill deadlock, which dragged on through the worst drought since the Great Depression, has been largely due to the insistence of House Republicans on cutting the food-stamp budget by $40 billion over 10 years on top of the $5 billion that has already been trimmed.
I was struck by a column by Katy Waldman in Slate personalizing the impact of the existing cuts, via a conversation with Debra, a single mother in Washington. Debra’s food-stamp allotment has been reduced from $203 a month to $130. Here is what she said about the situation before the cut.
It’s me and my daughter at home. She’s 21. It was bad enough before the cuts: We were eating lunch meat all week, and we only had enough for a can of vegetables a day. Divide $203 by 30 days, and then by three meals, and then halve it for each person. It’s not a lot. And now it’s going to be much worse. I don’t know if we can still do the canned vegetables every day. One thing we won’t do anymore is have three-course meals on weekends. We used to buy a dinner on Saturday and Sunday that would have three courses: a vegetable, a starch, and a meat. But meat is going to be a huge problem. It’s expensive for anyone. I don’t know what we’ll eat for the weekends anymore. Hopefully not lunch meats again.
Forty-seven million people are now on food stamps. I am sure that there are cheaters and those who game the system; many conservatives point to the California surfer eating lobster on food stamps, the classic “welfare queen” case. But the overwhelming majority are living on incomes below the poverty line. Five percent of all American families run out of money for food before the month is out, including a large number of working people.