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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The GOP: Stamping on Food Stamps

Republicans have hidden long enough from the questions that poverty raises.  As they have done with several important and devastating issues, they have placed the issue of poverty into the sole context of the deficit and the debt, which distracts from doing anything about the causes and the consequences of this lingering problem.  For them, addressing the issue of poverty is simply a matter of a budget expense that needs to be cut.  That approach to governance and to societal problem-solving is not only short-sighted, it is morally corrupt because it equates the needs of people with numbers, refusing to consider as relevant the lives of all those millions of real people affected by their draconian cuts. 

Food stamps are just one example of this.  FoxNews.com summarizes the story for us:
“Forty-eight million Americans will have their food stamps benefits slashed starting Friday (Nov. 1), when a recession-era boost in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) expires.  The move to cut back benefits will be the first wide-scale change to the program affecting nearly every single participant. The 13.6 percent cut comes out to about $36 a month less for a family of four getting government assistance or $420 a year, according to the Department of Agriculture.  Many anti-poverty groups have warned that cutting the program will leave millions of Americans vulnerable.  ‘People are living at the margins,’ Ellen Vollinger, legal director and SNAP advocate at the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger organization, told Reuters. ‘It's not an abstract metric for people. It's actual dollars to keep food in the refrigerator.’  The slash in the program also means less money for discount grocers, dollar stores and gas stations that rely on low-income shoppers.  SNAP is the largest anti-hunger program in the country.”

The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities comments:
“These cuts will likely cause hardship for some SNAP participants, who will include 22 million children in 2014 (10 million of whom live in “deep poverty,” with family incomes below half of the poverty line) and 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.  Cutting these households’ benefits will reduce their ability to purchase food.
This cut will be the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four, or 16 meals for a family of three, based on calculations using the $1.70 to $2 per meal provided for in the Thrifty Food Plan. 
USDA research has found that the Recovery Act’s benefit boost in 2009 cut the number of households in which one or more persons had to skip meals or otherwise eat less because they lacked money — what USDA calls “very low food security” — by about 500,000 households in 2009” (this is what has been allowed to end by recent legislation).

FoxNews also reminds us:
“Negotiations on a wide-ranging farm bill, including cuts to the SNAP program, began Wednesday (Oct. 30).  Five-year farm bills, (if) passed by both the House and the Senate would cut food stamps, reductions that would come on top of the cut that will go into effect (Nov. 1).  But the two chambers are far apart on the amounts.  Legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by an additional $4 billion annually and tighten eligibility requirements.  The Senate farm bill would cut a tenth of the House amount, with Democrats and President Barack Obama opposing major cuts.”

Let’s concentrate on some questions that need to be asked in light of what radical Republicans are attempting to do, i.e., to destroy programs that take money from the rich to be given to the “irresponsible poor” and to end what is seen as a “victim” attitude and a resultant “entitlement culture.”
1)    Q.  What specific problem will be solved by cutting the SNAP program?
    A.    None that we can pinpoint, except that Republicans believe (they never provide actual facts or figures, only anecdotes) this will be a way to cut back government spending and to fight “rampant” waste, fraud and abuse” (presumably on the part of “welfare queens” who, they believe, lurk around every corner.)  This is, of course, a simplistic answer that ignores the importance of the spending of government resources, such as food stamps, in local areas.  Take those resources away and all of a sudden there is a measurable effect upon farmers and local grocery stores.  In reality, the vast majority of SNAP recipients either work or are children, disabled or elderly.  The problem is people are hungry," says an advocate. "You can make the argument that they can go out and sustain themselves, and they should be able to find work. And in a perfect world, we would agree with that. But the world is imperfect, and if the jobs aren't there, the jobs aren't there."
 
2)   Q.  Who represents the interests of the poor in Congress?
    A.  Very few, and of those who do, some are not doing it as a constant.  The interests of the poor are represented mainly by advocates for the poor who do the best they can from a position of limited resources, to gain the attention and help of as many members as possible.  In these days of opposition to government welfare and entitlement programs, and with a fairly broad favoring of austerity measures, finding allies of the poor in Congress is not easy.

3)    Q.   And which Congresspersons are active advocates for their constituents who live in poverty?
A.
    A progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C., The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), issued a report in 2013 that ranked the voting records of members of Congress on issues of economic equality, showing who voted in 2011-2012 for policies that narrow the gap between rich and poor and who voted for policies that widen the divide.  The idea behind the report is that the gap between the rich and the other 99% of us didn’t happen by chance.  It happened because of conscious decisions on taxes, trade, or on regulations that constrain bad practices in business. The report titled “Inequality Report Card: Grading Congress On Inequality” looked at “40 specific legislative acts over the last two years, ranging from legislation to establish a ‘Buffett Rule’ minimum tax rate that all wealthy Americans must pay to a measure that would raise the minimum wage and index it to inflation.”
While Republicans “make up the entire list of the 48 representatives and 11 senators with an ‘F’ grade,” the report says, “not all Democrats distinguish themselves as champions of greater equality … Thirteen lawmakers who caucus with the Democrats rate only at the ‘C’ level.”
Several members of Congress from New England are notably distinguished in the report—on both sides of the issue. Not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is included in the report’s list of eight senators dubbed the “Most 99 Percent-Friendly of Congress.” Joining him are not only Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), but also Republicans Olympia Snow and Susan Collins of Maine.
At the other end of the spectrum, the report deems 17 senators “Most One Percent-Friendly Members of Congress,” including Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucused with the Democrats when he was a Senator.
Several Democrats are clearly recognizable as champions of the poor and middle class with a grade of A or A+ -- Raul Grijalva (AZ); Lyn Woolsey; Barbara Lee; Pete Stark; Hank Johnson; Sheila Jackson Lee; John Conyers; Jose Serrano; John Dingle; Keith Ellison; Elijah Cummings; Marcia Fudge; Jan Schakowsky; Yvette Clarke; Dennis Kucinich; Bernice Johnson; Ed Markey; Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But equally recognizable are some of those (Republicans) with below average grades, including our own Richard Hanna; Eric Cantor; Steve King; Mike Simpson; Allen West; Darrell Issa; Jeff Denham; Dan Lungren; Spencer Bachus, Pete Sessions and Michelle Bachmann.

4)   Q.  Which Congresspersons receive campaign donations from traditional opponents of “welfare programs;” in what amounts? (their poverty support grades, if available, are included in bold )
A.     Finance/Credit companies spending over $1 million on lobbying so far in the 2013-14 election cycle.  Top recipients:  Hensarling, Jeb (R-TX) House (D-)   $48,200; Wagner, Ann L (R-MO) House (NA)  $26,000;  Capito, Shelley Moore (R-WV) House (C-)   $26,000; Peters, Gary (D-MI) House (B)   $24,500; Yoder, Kevin (R-KS) House (F)   $21,900
Securities/Investment spending almost $8 million on lobbying so far.  Leading recipients include: Booker, Cory (D-NJ) (NA)   $883,487; Gomez, Gabriel (R-MA) (NA)  $629,650; Cornyn, John (R-TX) Senate (D) $446,129; Boehner, John (R-OH) House $395,455; Markey, Ed (D-MA) Senate (A)  $377,327
Oil/Gas spending $4.5 million so far in this cycle on lobbying.  Leading recipients: Cornyn, John (R-TX) Senate (D) $334,609; Boehner, John (R-OH) House (Not Voting)   $236,689; Landrieu, Mary L (D-LA) Senate (B) $199,500; Cassidy, Bill (R-LA) House (D)   $134,750; Conaway, Mike (R-TX) House (F)   $121,900  (data from Opensecrets.org)

5)    Q.  Which Congresspersons receive federal subsidies from the farm bill?
A.
     As reported by CNS News: “According to data compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 11 House members (or their spouses) and four senators (or their spouses) received $237,921 in taxpayer-funded farm subsidy payments in 2012.  They include:

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Rep. Robert Aderholt's (R-Ala.) (D-) wife, Caroline Aderholt, is a 6.3 percent owner of McDonald Farms according to 2008 ownership records. McDonald Farms received $66,891 in direct payment farm subsidies in 2012.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R- S.D.) (D) received $1,400 in direct payments in 2012. The estimated amount of subsidies attributed to Rep. Noem from 1995-2012 is $503,751.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calf.) (NA) and his wife Jill LaMalfa are each 16.67% partners (combined share totals 33.33%) of DSL Lamalfa Family Partnership, which received $188,570 in direct payments for 2012.  The estimated amount of subsidies from 1995-2012 from DSL LaMalfa Family Partnership total $1,710,385.
Rep. Frank Lucas' (R-Okla.) (D-) wife Lynda Lucas received $14,584 in disaster payments in 2012. Her total subsidy payments since 1999 are $40,613.
In 2008, Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) (NA) and his wife Terra Valadao had a combined ownership share of 33.4% of Triple V Dairy.  The EWG estimate of the amount of subsidies to Rep Valadao from Triple V Dairy in 2012 is $7,484.  The estimated subsidy amount attributed to Rep. Valadao from Triple V Dairy and Valadao Dairy from 2005-2012 is $185,724.
Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) (C-) and his wife Lynn Fincher are each 50 percent partners in Stephen & Lynn Fincher Farms.  They received a $70,574 direct payment farm subsidy in 2012. The Finchers have received $3,483,824 in farm subsidies since 1999.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) (F)  A trust named Lowell and Viky Hartzler Family Revocable Trust is listed as a 98 percent owner of Hartzler Farms, which received $697 in direct payment/ACRE and $686 for the Conservation Reserve Program for a total of $1,383 in 2012.  The Hartzler’s estimated subsidies from 1995-2012 are $516,000.
Rep. John Kline's (R-Minn.) (D-) wife, Vicky Sheldon Kline, is listed as a 20 percent owner of Sheldon Family Farms LP, which received a $3,025 conservation reserve program payment in 2012. The estimated amount of subsidies received by Rep. Kline’s wife from 2000-2012 is $6,548.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) (D+) received a 2012 direct payment of $339. Rep Neugebauer has received $670 since 2011.  Rep. Neugebauer also had interests in two different farming businesses from 1998-2003.  His estimated subsidies using the percentage share from USDA for those two businesses are $3,651, which brings his total subsidies to $4,321.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) (D) received a 2012 direct payment of $6,654. Rep Stutzman has received $196,268 in farm subsidies since 1997.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) (D-) is a one-third owner of Thornberry Brothers, which received a $5,103 direct payment and $4,078 in disaster aid payments in 2012. EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidy benefits Thornberry received is $3,060 in 2012. His estimated total subsidies from 1995-2012 is $29,774.

U.S. SENATE
Sen. Michael Bennet's (D-Colo.) (C+) wife, Susan Daggett, is listed in his 2010 financial disclosure forms as 5.5 percent owner of Daggett Farms LP and LMD Farms LP. EWG’s estimate of farm subsidy benefits Daggett received, based on the percentage share, was $2,107 in 2012.  The total subsidy amount for Ms. Daggett is $22,789 from 1995-2012.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) (D) received $8,207 in direct payments and $1,728 in conservation reserve payments for a total of $9,935 in 2012. Senator Grassley has received $327,246 in farm subsidies since 1995.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) (C) personally received $2,982 in direct payments and $6,113 in conservation reserve program payments in 2012. Testers’ wife, Sharla, is listed as a 50 percent owner of T-Bone Farms – Tester is listed as owning the other 50 percent. T-Bone farms received $12,186 in direct payments in 2012. The Tester’s total subsidies for 2012 were $21,281.  Their total from 1995-2012 is $505,536
EWG’s estimate of the farm subsidies and conservation payments Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)  and his wife, Elaine Hatch, received is based on the share information provided in financial disclosure forms regarding Ms. Hatch’s share of Edries N Hansen Properties LLC which received $2,530 in direct payments and $50,000 in conservation reserve program payments in 2012 is $10,506.  The estimated amount of subsidies to Ms. Hatch from 1995-2012 is $49,722.

The point of all this is the hypocritical attitude of cutting food stamps for the poor – few of whom are cheaters or “welfare queens” – while feeding at the public trough of farm subsidies, and lobbyists’ largesse -- and not seeing the contradiction of the “welfare” that congressmen and Senators take (along with the farm conglomerates they support), even though they certainly ought to “be able to get along on their own without government help!”  

In light of what has already been presented, let’s take a look at some interesting statistics that point, not only to the extent of poverty, but to the distortions and myths that Republicans perpetuate.  The statistics were generated from data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau including their annual report on income and poverty released in September 2013, and from their New Census Report Measure of Poverty, November 8, 2013:

-- Overall the total population of the U.S. was 310.6 million in 2012 and 46.5 million Americans were in poverty.  Therefore the overall Poverty Rate for the year was 15%.  The U.S. Census Bureau said this week that the “number of poor people in this country is really higher than officials had thought—49.7 million, about 16 percent of the population.” Economists and others report that not only are the poor getting poorer and the rich richer, but that the American Dream is fading fast. More and more poor people say they can’t see or imagine how they will ever be better off. “
-- The US poverty line threshold is $23,050/Yr. for a family of four or about $110 a week per head!
-- 38% of Americans (120 million people) live "paycheck to paycheck", a far better measure of Poverty!
-- 1.6 million Americans earn the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr. About 2.0 million were reported as earning wages "below" the minimum wage!
-- More than 16% of the US population lives in poverty, including 20% of American children, up from 14.3% in 2009 and to its highest level since 1993!   Yes, 1 in 5 children live in poverty!
--Extreme poverty in the US, meaning households living on less than $2 per day before government benefits, is double 1996 levels at 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children.
--Overall 16.7 million US children live in food insecure households now, about 35% more than 2007 levels.
--Of Households receiving food stamps, 43.7% are said to have one or more persons with a disability
--More shocking is that 48% of households receiving food stamps have at least one worker and 28.7% had 2 or more workers in the last 12 months
--where households are headed by a female with no husband present, 34% are at less than 100% of the poverty level

Our final question goes to the heart of the pragmatic nature of the cycle of poverty: 
Q.    What specifically do Republicans propose to do about solving problems that both cause and increase poverty, such as the lack of jobs, adequate schools, health is insurance, nutritious food, adequate and affordable day care, and adequate transportation; lowering school drop-out rates and increasing college graduation rates, to name a few?   More to the point, I suspect is the question of a systematic, planned approach to the cycle of poverty.  The War Against Poverty begun in 1964, at least attempted to take a stab at attacking that vicious cycle or circle.  It was successful in certain areas, like Medicare, but failed in others like Legal Aid and transportation services, although gains were made in both areas. In order to stay focused on the one area of nutritious food, what do Republicans propose to do about this one aspect of poverty?  Is adequate and nutritious food for those living in poverty even one of their goals? 
A.    It depends: if it helps them win elections, they’ll vote for a safety net of food, but they would rather have poor people get their food from food pantries and the largesse of other private entities, then to have government providing food stamps. 
    Here’s what one conservative group had to say:
    “The right's case against food stamps — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — goes like this, according to Henry Olsen at National Review. They "cost too much, have grown too quickly, encourage government dependency, and discourage work."  The Heritage Foundation is leading the charge. Rachel Sheffield, writing at the conservative think tank's The Foundry blog, says trimming the program is essential to keep it from pinching the struggling middle class. Republicans say that 4 million of those receiving food stamps each month are able-bodied adults with no dependents, and that many of them do little, if any, paid work. (To be sure, most food stamp recipients are single mothers, children, the elderly, and the disabled.)
    Sheffield argues that the House GOP's proposal would help "ensure that the food stamp program is focused on helping those truly in need" by closing loopholes that have let states loosen income requirements and asset tests for applicants. It also encourages optional programs to help able-bodied recipients find work. If anything, Sheffield argues, the bill should go further, and make such programs mandatory for any state that gets federal food stamp money.  A strong work requirement is vital to reform. Policymakers should look to the 1996 welfare reform as a model for encouraging work and self-sufficiency. [The Foundry]
    Conservatives say they ‘aren't merely trying to take away food stamps for the sick, cruel fun of it,’ as Erika Johnsen explains at Hot Air. ‘They are trying to enact healthier economic policies, and to address the root of the country's high unemployment and financial pain’. ”

So, if this is an adequate representation, Republicans believe that the cycle of poverty can be broken by improving the economy, yet they have done all in their power – as with austerity measures and shutting down the government – to sabotage the recovery!  They not only don’t have a plan for attacking the viciousness of poverty in America, they don’t even have a plan for improving the economy, or even for training those who need new skills!  This is the sign that they have not elected competent legislators and problem-solvers, but political ideologues who have nothing to offer but their boring rhetoric.
 
From the report card grades we have cited, to their voracious appetite for public funds, to their lack of creative legislation, to their lack of adequate standards and policies for re-vamping and reforming instead of just cutting government programs,  Republicans in Congress have demonstrated over and over again that they have no abiding interest in assisting poor children, persons with disabilities, the elderly poor, or veterans in poverty with any of their poverty-related issues. 

It is not just a question of “mean-spiritedness”, it is a question of indifference.   They simply do not wish to pay any attention to what people in poverty, or even census statistics, have to say.  Their quest to destroy central government, and its “welfare” programs, is paramount in their thinking.  They have proven it by their votes on critical economic legislation.  That is the key – their report cards on key legislation prove that they have cast votes that widen the income gap between the 1% and the 99% in favor of the already rich and getting richer!  Nowhere in their portfolio is there any room for asking if all our citizens have a right to adequate nutritious food every day of their lives!