"The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat." Tennessee Congressman Stephan Fincher used this quote from the book of Thessalonians to support his, and others' efforts to dramatically cut the food stamp program during a recent farm bill debate. There is so much wrong with this sentiment and the effort to dramatically reduce food stamps at a time when increases are needed, it's hard to know where to begin.
The House of Representatives is proposing a $40 billion cut to food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. The food stamp program was enacted in the 1960s as an anti-poverty strategy to help address malnutrition of youth and hunger in America. Over the last 50 years food stamps have helped millions of low-income Americans meet their basic nutritional needs.
Many of the stories being trotted out by proponents of the cuts are shrouded in mistruths and stereotypes. Here are some truths about hunger here at home:
According to a recent USDA report, 21 percent of our nation's children live in households that don't have access to enough food;
The state of Washington is the 15th-hungriest state in the nation, with at least 400,000 food-insecure children;
More families in Washington are hungry and food insecure now than at any time in history.
None of this is news to low-income families, the Opportunity Council or Bellingham Food Bank. A cut to food stamps will be devastating to low-income families.
We recently asked some food bank customers what a reduction in food stamps will mean to them.
Sarah, a disabled grandmother caring for two of her grandchildren said, "I'll just have to skip more meals than I already do."
Elliot, who is working at a part-time, minimum-wage job while going to Bellingham Technical College responded, "I don't know, I may have to stop going to college and work more."
All food stamp recipients are already going to receive a 14 percent cut in benefits on Nov. 1 because economic stimulus provisions included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are scheduled to expire. The cuts proposed in Congress are on top of that Nov. 1 reduction and will result in a loss of up to $90 per month in benefits for 230,000 Washington families. Here are some facts about food stamp recipients:
The average food stamp household has an annual income of about $8,800;
Seventy-five percent of households receiving benefits include a child, a person age 60 or older, or someone who is working.
While it may be obvious that food stamps provide more opportunity for health and productivity for those who have access to them, let's talk about the community-wide benefits of keeping the food stamp program intact. It's really a simple solution that is good for all of us.
For starters, your child's entire classroom benefits when every student can come to school fed and ready to learn, rather than hungry, distracted or agitated.
Your business or workplace benefits when employees are fed, healthy and less likely to miss work.
And your aging neighbors, grandparents, aunts, uncles will know they are valued and their community (country) is committed to ensuring they have enough nutritious food to eat.
As for the debate about whether "the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat?"
The fact is more than 80 percent of food-stamp households with an able-bodied adult worked in the year before or after receiving benefits.
Rep. Fincher not only used flawed and incendiary logic as he proposed cuts to food stamps, he also forgot to mention that his district was the second-largest recipient of farm subsidies from the United States Congress.
Let's make sure Whatcom County's elected leaders do better. Call today to urge your Congress member to vote no on cuts to SNAP this week.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Mike Cohen is executive director of Bellingham Food Bank and Dave Finet is executive director of the Opportunity Council.