Food Stamps and Farm Subsidies
Recently, the US Senate passed a farm bill which includes significant cuts to the Food Stamp program, while the House of Representatives passed a bill which addresses farm subsidies, but does not include any mention of Food Stamps whatsoever. This was due to the failure of a previous bill to pass the House because significant numbers of Republican members thought it did not cut Food Stamps enough. The future of the Food Stamp program is still up in the air, as differences between the two legislative bodies must be reconciled before a bill can be passed by both and sent to the President for signature.
While the Senate bill is preferable to the House version that failed to pass because the cuts are not as severe, cuts are not warranted at all at this time. Claims by conservative legislators that the program is severely bloated and encourages dependency on government programs instead of incentive for recipients to seek gainful employment are much more rhetoric than reality. They cite enrollment figures as bearing out their point. Nothing could be further from the truth. More people are using food stamps than did several years ago, but that says more about the economy than about the recipients.
In his State of the Union Address back in February, President Obama called for Congress to increase the minimum wage to $9/hour to make it more of a wage that people can live on. While the wage he suggested is far from being a livable wage, any increase would be an improvement on the current federal minimum wage of $7.25, which was not even adequate when it was put into effect several years ago and has not been adjusted for increases in the cost of living. Several states have recognized this fact by setting state minimum wages in excess of the federal one. To the best of my knowledge, the economies of those states were not plunged into depression as a result of having done so. Millions of Americans now may legally earn far less than a living wage while working full time jobs. McDonald’s and Walmart are two prominent examples of major US companies employing many workers who require federal assistance, including Food Stamps, in order to make ends meet and support their families.
The Great Recession has resulted in more and more good jobs replaced by lower paying service sector jobs, or not at all. Even the Federal Government employs many workers earning less than a living wage through its contracting out services to private contractors. This means that more people are currently working for substandard pay for the federal government than even Walmart and McDonald’s combined. The fact that the minimum wage continues to lag while the cost of living continues to increase only serves to leave increasing numbers of people in need of federal programs to supplement their pay so that they and their families can make ends meet.
Many recipients of the program are, in fact, dependent children, disabled and elderly people no longer even in the work force. Attacking programs such as Social Security, housing assistance, Medicare and Food Stamps as wasteful without addressing the need to improve these economic circumstances is irresponsible. To follow practices knowingly impoverishing millions of American workers and allowing business and industry to legally do the same, while cutting the safety net programs that allow for at least a modicum of respite from the harshness, is unconscionable.
The need for the Food Stamp program is not diminished by the so-called recovery, as long as wages and employment do not actually lift more people out of poverty. Doubling down on the hypocrisy by maintaining or increasing subsidies that primarily benefit wealthy landowners and agribusiness adds insult to injury. Demonizing the victims of economic policies which create so many recipients of inadequate paychecks may make the legislators feel justified in their actions, but bear no relationship to the realities faced by those they will make go hungry in the process. One need not be a laggard to need assistance under present circumstances.
The federal government cannot escape responsibility for the fate of the workers hired under their contract for work, any more than Walmart or Apple can escape responsibility for the fate of the workers in foreign sweatshops producing the products they sell. Our government must be setting an example in its treatment of employees, not reverting to the tactics used by for-profit companies to enhance their bottom line. Instead of allowing CEOs and other corporate executives to be lavished in obscene salary and benefit packages as payment for their increased profits at the expense of their rank and file workers, our government should be making them treat their workers with more dignity by paying them commensurate to their need to support themselves and their families.
Raising the wages of all the workers who have seen their paychecks stagnate over the past several decades would accomplish several beneficial results. This would involve both a significant raise in the minimum wage and an increase in the types of jobs covered by the provisions of that legislation. Separate or non-existent minimum wages for certain types of workers may be popular among certain employers, but they do not negate the need of all people to earn a livable wage for their work. Fewer people would meet eligibility requirements for the federal assistance if this were to occur. Some celebrated examples recently of people trying to live off the average food stamp allotment illustrate the fact that recipients are not exactly living in the lap of luxury where their diets are concerned. The benefits are not particularly generous to begin with. Nor are eligibility requirements that lenient. If you want you lessen spending on food stamps, pay people at the lower end of the wage scale better. They have jobs. Pay them like you want them to stay alive and keep working. Raising the minimum wage by a few dollars would not eliminate but would help reduce the need for Food Stamps.significantly.
By making sure that desires of their wealthy donors were addressed before the needs of many of their constituents says much about the irresponsibility of the House Republicans. That the President has vowed to veto any farm bill including draconian cuts to the nutrition programs traditionally included in that bill is to his credit, but Democrats agreeing to cuts to the programs without addressing the need for such cuts to be accompanied by the inclusion of economic improvements for those using the programs have much to answer for. Deficit cutting primarily to the detriment of the most vulnerable among us may make it easier for a Senator or Representative to get re-elected, but it is also a grave dereliction of duty that we must put a stop to as soon as possible.
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