Balancing Budgets on the Backs of the Poor

The House GOP has no interest in balancing the federal budget, but it is prepared to make the most vulnerable among us pay for the illusion that it does. According to Yahoo News, the budget reconciliation bill approved by the House of Representatives in mid-May would cut food stamps by $35.8 billion, eliminating benefit increases that were part of the Obama stimulus and limiting eligibility. It cuts Medicare and other healthcare, slashes $17 billion from social service grants that cover programs like Meals on Wheels, child welfare and daycare for the young, the aging and the disabled.

At the same time, the budget would leave the Pentagon untouched and extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, a reverse Robin Hood formulation.

During a telephone press conference, reported on by Princeton Patch, US Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) made clear the damage the GOP budget plan would do. (Disclosure: I am the regional editor for Patch and oversee Princeton Patch.)

“Make no mistake: these cuts would increase hardship in New Jersey and set back our economic recovery at a time when too many families continue to struggle,” Holt said.

The food stamp cuts are especially troubling at a time when food insecurity is on the rise.

As many as one in seven Americans experience difficulty affording food during the course of the year with a third of them going without food at some point, according to the World Hunger Organization. In general, poverty in the United States has been increasing since the 2007-2008 banking implosion and subsequent recession. There were 46.9 million people in poverty in 2010, a 25 percent increase over a four-year period. One in six Americans live in poverty (the number is much higher for blacks, Hispanics and children), with nearly half living in “extreme poverty” – or at less than half of the poverty line, the WHO said.

Food stamps (or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) subsidize about 40 million Americans, allowing them “to afford a nutritionally adequate diet,” the WHO said. “More than 75 percent of all food stamp participants are in families with children; nearly one-third of participants are elderly people or people with disabilities. Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, the Food Stamp Program is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes.” The Republican budget would change that, tightening eligibility rules and eliminating about 2 million from the food stamp rolls.

Bishop Don Dixon Williams, of Bread for the World, one of the country’s largest anti-hunger/anti-poverty advocacy groups, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting, that the budget cuts would balance the budget “on the backs of poor and hungry people.”

“The costs of hunger on a society are devastating,” Williams told WVPB. “You have a natural resource, you have a life, you have people who have been productive in society and now find themselves in a situation where they are not able to feed themselves. Many are losing their homes because of the recession.” New Jersey anti-poverty advocates agreed. “The Food Stamp program has long been a front line defense in the alleviation of hunger and poverty,” said Diane Riley, director of advocacy for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. (Princeton Patch). The Community FoodBank “has seen a 46 percent rise in the number of people who need assistance since the recession began” and without food stamps “the increased demand on charities such as The Community FoodBank would be crippling,” she said.

What makes this callousness all the more tragic is that the plan being pushed by the GOP does little to bring down the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office, according to The Washington Post, says the GOP budget would cut a more than $1 trillion deficit by about $238 billion over the next decade – which does not take into account the disastrous effects of the tax reforms being proposed by the House GOP. The overall effect would be to blow the deficit up even as more and more Americans fall into a poverty that will be harsh and unyielding, thanks to the GOP’s shredding of what’s left of the national safety net.

Hank Kalet is a poet and a regional editor for Email; blog; Twitter, @newspoet41;

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2012

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