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Let Them Eat Bobkes

Marc Jampole
June 27, 2013
Food stamps AugAs the lead story of the latest issue of The Progressive Populist by Jill Richardson reminded us this week, the House of Representatives wants to cut $2.0 billion out of the annual food stamp budget. A bill in the Senate would limit the cut in the food stamp program to $400 million. Either set of cuts will result in some combination of fewer people receiving food stamps and those receiving food stamps getting less. Let’s make no bones about it: People will go hungry. In a recent article circulating the Internet, a writer named Michael Lombardi puts two well-known numbers together to demonstrate the enormity of the problem of food insecurity in the United States: the number of Americans on food stamps (47.7 million) and the number of people living in Spain (46.2 million). Guess what? More people get food stamps in the United States than live in the entire country of Spain. We have a country’s worth of people so poor that they need government funds to buy food. Despite what race-baiting right-wingers like Rick Santorum say, the large number of people on food stamps does not reflect on the weak moral fiber of Americans or of some special group of Americans. Believe me, very few of the nearly 48 million U.S. citizens on food stamps want to be on food stamps. Food stamp recipients must earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line, which in 2013 computes to a little over $30,500 a year for a family of four and less than $15,000 a year for an individual. And to qualify for food stamps, you pretty much must have no savings, since even $100 in liquid assets (bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and ETFs) will disqualify you, no matter how little you make. Do you know anyone who wants to live at the poverty level with no savings? I don’t and I never have, even during the hippy-dippy-trippy days of the 1970s. I do know people who have lost their jobs or are chronically underemployed. I know people who don’t have the skills to get a decent-paying job, and I do know people with skills that have grown obsolete. I know people who were never trained how to write a resumé or cover letter in school, and people who have trouble reading because of a disability. I know people who have been emotionally crushed by fighting one or more of our dirty wars, or who have had the energy drained out of them by extreme and persistent poverty. I know people who overextended themselves in debt because of illness in the family. I know people who bought into the American ideology of consumption and didn’t save enough money and then lost their jobs. I know people who lost their jobs when the CEO screwed up and then walked away with a golden parachute. I know a lot of children in poor families, who face food insecurity through no fault of their own, merely because they were born into a poor family or one that fell from the grace of a middle class life. All of these people — the children and the adults, those in poverty through no fault of their own, and those who “got what they deserved” — all have something in common besides their impoverished conditions. They are all human beings. They don’t deserve to go hungry in a land of plenty. So why do so many of our elected officials want to starve their fellow Americans? If we want to cut the food stamp budget, we should create more jobs through major public projects such as improving mass transit, retrofitting buildings to make them greener and safer, and repairing bridges, highways and dams. We should make sure the jobs are well-paying by substantially raising the minimum wage and fostering increases unionization of the workforce. We need to invest in our schools. Starving people to cut the budget is inhumane and not worthy of a representative democracy. Marc Jampole is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.