Study Suggests Why Food Assistance for Homeless Young Adults is Inadequate

Though young homeless adults make use of available food programs, these support structures still often fail to provide reliable and consistent access to nutritious food, according to the results of a new study by a University at Buffalo social work researcher.

The findings, which fill an important gap in the research literature, can help refine policies and programs to better serve people experiencing homelessness, particularly those between the ages of 18-24.

“It may be tempting to think of food pantries, soup kitchens and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as the solution,” says Elizabeth Bowen, an assistant professor in UB’s School of Social Work and lead author of the study with Andrew Irish, a UB graduate student in the School of Social Work, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. But these supports are not enough. “We’re still seeing high levels of food insecurity, literal hunger, where people go a whole day without eating anything.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” Hunger is a “potential consequence of food insecurity [that] results in discomfort, illness, weakness or pain.” In Bowen’s study, 80 percent of participants were considered to be severely food insecure.

“There has been recent research about housing and shelter use for homeless young adults, as well as work on drug use and sexual risk behaviors for this same population, but I found that not much had been done on the issue of food access,” says Bowen. “It’s hard to even think about housing and health needs if we don’t know how people are eating, or not eating.”

It’s not surprising see a relationship between homelessness and food insecurity, but Bowen warns of oversimplifying what is in fact a more nuanced problem.

“This research is important because we’re establishing a clear indication of food insecurity in this population, which we did not previously have,” she says. “If we’re going to design programs and services that better address food insecurity, along with addressing housing, education and employment, we need to know about the access strategies: How and what are homeless young adults eating? Where are they finding food? What do they have to do to get it? And how does that affect other parts of their lives?”

For her qualitative study, Bowen conducted in-depth interviews with 30 young adults between the ages of 18-24 who were experiencing homelessness in Buffalo, New York.

“Working with this small group gives us insights into the lived experience,” says Bowen. “It’s a way of setting a knowledge foundation and understanding of the topic in the context of people’s lives, and what goes on with their health, housing, relationships, education and trying to get out of homelessness.”

In Bowen’s study, 70 percent of young adults were receiving SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. But actually getting these benefits can be difficult.

SNAP covers dependent children under their parent’s benefits until the child’s 22nd birthday. But the program administers benefits based on the parents’ address and assumes that parents and children of a single family are living together.

“This is clearly a problem for young people experiencing homelessness since many of them are under 22 and obviously aren’t living at the same address as their parents,” says Bowen. “The young people in this case can’t get SNAP on their own because they’re already listed on their parents’ open application for those same benefits – and the burden of proof is on the young person to demonstrate they don’t live with their parents.”

Documentation is required as proof that the family is no longer together, according to Bowen, but in many cases getting the necessary paperwork is difficult because of strained family relationships.

“That’s one avenue for a policy change,” says Bowen.

But even with revised eligibility guidelines, food stamps sometimes are not enough, particularly for homeless young people who have no way to store or prepare food. Bowen notes that this problem would be greatly exacerbated by a change proposed in the 2019 federal budget to convert part of a household’s SNAP benefits from electronic benefits to a box of canned goods and other commodities.

Homeless young adults’ food access challenges are further compounded by the fact that young people are sometimes reluctant to use resources like soup kitchens, or have trouble accessing these places due to transportation barriers and limited hours. This finding mirrors prior research showing how young adults are not comfortable in places meant for the general homeless adult population, according to Bowen.

For instance, where shelter is concerned, an 18-year-old in the city of Buffalo is considered an adult and would go to an adult shelter, which can feel discouraging and unsafe.

“What I found in this study is that people were saying the same things about places to get food. They know about these soup kitchens, but the places feel institutional and stigmatized to young people,” says Bowen. “If we want to develop food programs to be engaging to young people we have to think about breaking down some barriers. For example, because of food insecurity among students, many college campuses are now offering food pantries. I would like to think about how to integrate food pantries and other services into places where young people are going anyway.”

SNAP Benefits Aren’t Enough to Afford a Healthy Diet

A new study from North Carolina State University and the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, only covers 43-60 percent of what it costs to consume a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines for what constitutes a healthy diet. The study highlights the challenges lower-income households face in trying to eat a healthy diet.

“The federal government has defined what constitutes a healthy diet, and we wanted to know how financially feasible it was for low-income households, who qualify for SNAP benefits, to follow these guidelines,” says Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, co-author of a paper on the study and an assistant professor of agricultural and human sciences at NC State.

This can be a tricky question to answer, as federal dietary guidelines vary based on age and gender. SNAP benefits also vary, based on household income and the number of adults and children living in the household. For the purposes of this study, the researchers used average monthly SNAP benefits for 2015.

To address their research question, the researchers looked at the cost to follow federal dietary guidelines based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s monthly retail price data from 2015 for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. They calculated costs under a variety of scenarios. For example, what would it cost to comply with dietary guidelines if one only ate produce that was fresh, not frozen? What if one only consumed fruits and vegetables that were frozen? What if a household followed a vegetarian diet? The researchers also included labor costs associated with shopping and preparing meals, based on 2010 estimates produced by other economics researchers.

“We found significant variability in the costs associated with following federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes-Maslow says. “For example, it was most expensive to consume only fresh produce, and it was least expensive to consume a vegetarian diet.”

To place this in context, consider a four-person household that has one adult male, one adult female, one child aged 8-11 and one child aged 12-17 – all of whom qualify for SNAP benefits. They would need to spend $626.95 per month in addition to their SNAP benefits if they ate only fresh produce as part of their diet. That same household would need to spend $487.39, in addition, to SNAP benefits if they ate a vegetarian diet.

“Many low-income households simply don’t have an additional $500 or $600 to spend on food in their monthly budget,” Haynes-Maslow says.

The researchers did find that SNAP is sufficient to meet the healthy dietary needs of two groups: children under the age of 8 and women over the age of 51. However, SNAP was insufficient to meet the needs of older children, younger women, or men of any age.

“Even though SNAP is not designed to cover all of the cost of food – it’s meant to be a supplemental food program – this study makes it clear that there would be many low-income households that would not be able to cover the gap needed to eat a diet consistent with federal dietary guidelines,” Haynes Maslow says. “Even without including labor costs, a household of four would need to spend approximately $200-$300 in addition to their SNAP benefits to follow the dietary guidelines.”

What About a Welfare Challenge?

In recent years, to draw attention to the plight of food insecurity in America, advocacy groups and community organizations have promoted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or “food stamp” challenges.  Aimed at highlighting the difficulties in living on a “food stamp budget,” (about $4-$5 per day) these challenges encourage participants to better understand the realities faced by those who rely on food assistance to meet nutritional needs.

Over the past decade, policy makers, journalists, celebrities, and regular folks across the country have participated in these challenges and shared their stories, which generally share a common refrain: It’s hard. Purchasing sufficient quantities of quality food for a family on such a budget is near impossible.

Moreover, a considerable number of SNAP families report zero income, meaning that there are no additional funds to act as a buffer when the food stamps run out. These types of challenges are important in drawing attention to the very real problem of hunger in our country, and have the potential to raise needed funds for food pantries and anti-hunger advocacy groups.

While recently reading about a SNAP challenge experience, I got to thinking: why not a welfare challenge? Much like food stamps, today’s cash assistance program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) is a widely-misunderstood government benefit, and stereotypes about recipients abound. Why not challenge celebrities, politicians, and community members to live on a “welfare budget” for a month?

The guidelines for my proposed challenge would look something like this:

  • Welcome to the welfare challenge! Imagine your family has fallen on hard times. Before you get started, freeze all of your assets. No access to savings, credit cards, or investments for a full month. Remember, millions of poor families lack access to a formal bank account, and most lack any financial safety net. For this month, you have nothing to fall back on.
  • Now, live on a budget of $400 for the next 30 days. This is about the average monthly cash assistance benefit in the U.S. (though you could be living on as little as $200 per month if you live in certain states). This $400 should cover all of your non-food expenses, including utilities, toiletries, cleaning products, clothes, transportation costs, school fees, and anything else you and your family may need for survival. Hope for no parking tickets, car repairs, or other unforeseen expenses!

Don’t forget that due to overwhelming need, federal housing assistance doesn’t reach many low-income families. In fact, in many areas, public housing applicants face excessive waiting lists or must participate in lotteries to obtain access. So you’d better plan to budget for your housing this month too.

  • Try to avoid accepting other forms of assistance to help meet your family’s needs, as these aren’t always available to every family.
  • Set aside 30 hours per week for your required work assignment, which is required through the program. This may include volunteer work, job search assistance, or another type of work activity, though be aware that data suggest this will not likely prepare you for a living wage job in the future. However, without participating, you can set your budget back to $0 as families receiving cash assistance can be sanctioned (i.e. thrown off the program) for failing to comply. In many states, this means that the whole family loses their cash benefit, including children. Don’t be late!
  • Next, experience the struggle of living in poverty and relying on welfare benefits to support your family. Be prepared for the inevitable fallout, which may include losing your home, your car, and running out of diapers, tampons, or toilet paper (which can’t be purchased through food stamp benefits). Be prepared to tell your kids “no” a lot. Fear every bill that lands in your mailbox. Expect your physical and emotional health to suffer.  You may even struggle to think clearly and problem solve.

Ready to sign up?

Rest easy, do-gooders.  Promoting such a challenge would be irresponsible, even reckless.  To expect families to live on $400 per month is ludicrous, yet across the country, we expect just that from hundreds of thousands of households. Children suffer tremendously as a result.

Speculation about such a challenge is already largely inconsequential, as cash assistance itself is a dying concept. It’s been well documented that welfare is dead. Across the country, the rolls are dropping precipitously, as sanction policies become stricter and more punitive while funds continue to be supplanted to plug state budget holes. In my state of Ohio, with a population of over 11 million, only about 100,000 recipients remain (mostly children), despite the fact that nearly 1.8 million people and 340,000 Ohio families live in poverty.

Fighting hunger in America is an area of shared commitment. While people have a range of opinions on the best approach, those on both sides of the aisle generally agree: hunger is bad. This is especially evident around the holidays. We collect cans, serve meals to the homeless, and write checks making donations to pantries. However, poverty is more complicated, and too often we allow personal judgements and stereotypes to cloud our ability to feel empathy to the poor.

All too often, we cease to remember that being poor means more than not getting enough to eat. Poverty is pain, shame, and struggle. Hunger may be easier to put a Band-Aid on, but it won’t end altogether unless we tackle the source.

My welfare challenge is, for good reason, a nonstarter. Asking others to demonstrate compassion for those in poverty is not. Supporting policies that allow families to live with dignity is not. Let us all try to do better.

Resource for SNAP Users

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According to the US Department of Agriculture, the average food stamp allotment is approximately $40 per person, per week. Many social workers work with clients who food security is based on this tight food budget. When faced with such a limited budget, it is very difficult to feed your family a variety of healthy foods. However, there are many resources available that can assist families with this task.

Not only can these resources be used by individuals and families who are on a food stamp budget, anyone who is looking to save money and maybe at a bit more healthily in the process can use them as well.

Budget Bytes features delicious, healthy meals with a cost break down at the end of each post. These recipes include many ingredients that may seem too expensive for someone on a tight budget, but they are used in a way that allows for savings in other places. The blog creator, Beth, has also participated in the SNAP Challenge in the past. During the SNAP Challenge, participants pledged to spend no more than the average food stamp budget for one month. A part of the challenges, bloggers like Beth were encouraged to write about their experiences. More articles about the SNAP Challenge can be found in the Huffington Post and the Food Research and Action Center.

In addition to recipe resources, there are also other ways to help stretch the SNAP budget. For example, programs such as Market Match in California offer to double the dollar amount for SNAP recipients at many farmers markets. This allows people twice as much money to spend on fresh produce as before. As produce is one of the most expensive parts of any food budget, so these programs allow families better access to healthy options.

Money Saving Mom has an enormous amount of resources for anyone on a strict budget. Some of her most popular articles and tips include shopping the circulars, how to pair coupons with existing sales, and how to play the drugstore game. Additionally, there are many resources and articles regarding other areas of budgeting, which may also be helpful for some clients.

For many of our clients, their only food budget comes from food stamps. When on a budget that tight, any tips are likely to be helpful. Hopefully some of these resources can help not only individuals and families who receive SNAP benefits, but also aid those who are looking to save money overall.

Who Really Receives Food Stamps?

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As with other groups, there is a stereotype of food stamp, or SNAP benefit, recipients. Many people believe that most food stamp recipients resemble President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen”; women of color who would rather collect money from the government than go to work, poor families who have more kids than they can afford, or some combination of the two. However, the actual demographics of SNAP benefit users are quite different from this stereotype.

Perhaps the most important demographical fact about food stamp recipients is that around 40% are white. However, many politicians continue reinforce the idea that welfare programs are used almost exclusively by minority populations. For example, in 2012, former Senator Rick Santorum said, “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money, I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Data from the USDA released in 2013 showed the breakdown of SNAP recipients: 40.2 percent are white, 25.7 percent are Black, 10.3 percent of recipients are Hispanic, 2.1 percent are Asian, and 1.2 percent of SNAP recipients are Native American. Read more

This kind of rhetoric is problematic for several reasons. First, it perpetuates the incorrect stereotype of minority populations especially with African-American’s being portrayed as the only group on any kind of social benefit programs. Additionally, it explicitly implies that people who receive benefits are doing so to avoid working, and if they were willing to look for and accept work, they would no longer need the benefits. Finally, it perpetuates the negative stigma associated with being on a social assistance program, which could make people less likely to seek assistance if needed.

If food stamp beneficiaries are not able-bodied, black, and unwilling to work, who are they? Around 80% of SNAP benefit users either have children (40%), are disabled (20%), or are over the age of sixty-five (17%). While there are able-bodied, young, single people who receive food stamps, they are by no means the majority. Additionally, many states are in the process of purging the program of these individuals with approximately half a million users set to lose their benefits in the next year. This means that it will be even less common for young, healthy, single individuals to receive SNAP which will overwhelming affect foster children who age of the system with no to low support systems.

Many food stamp users belong to a demographic known as the working poor. These are individuals and families who are working, but they are in jobs that do not offer enough hours or enough money to truly remove them from poverty. Approximately 30% of food stamp recipients are working in some capacity. However, due to their income and/or family size, they still qualify for food stamps and other means-tested programs such as Medicaid.

Unfortunately, despite evidence to the contrary, the negative stereotype of the food stamp user persists. One way to combat negative stereotypes is to speak up about the reality, However, it is understandable that many benefit recipients are hesitant to do so. It is imperative for social workers and other service providers to help combat this stigma by speaking out on behalf of our clients.

More Than 500,000 Childless Adults to Lose SNAP Benefits This Year

Credit: Mohammad Ali Fakheri/Flickr Creative Commons
Credit: Mohammad Ali Fakheri/Flickr Creative Commons

Within the next year, between 500,000 and 1 million childless adults without disabilities will be dropped from their SNAP, or food stamp, benefits. A three-month time limit exists on benefits for this population, which has been in place since the welfare reform legislation in 1996. Currently, childless adults aged 18-49 without disabilities are the only population subject to this time limit.

The reasons that single, childless adults find themselves on food stamps are varied, as is the group itself. Some of these individuals are chronically homeless, stuck deeply in a cycle of poverty that could feel impossible to break. However, many of them are working, but in either low wage or unstable jobs because their income is either quite low or sporadic. It can be difficult to sustain a stable budget, which leads to the need for SNAP and other forms of assistance.

The welfare reform package of 1996 included a work provision that has made it more difficult for many groups to remain on assistance, even if their income has not increased. During the great recession, which started in 2007 and has had lasting impacts on the economy since, many states received a waiver from the federal government that temporarily allowed benefit recipients to remain in the program while the economy stabilized. Now that the economy has improved, these waivers no longer apply.

The overarching goal of the 1996 welfare reform package was to provide incentives and assistance for people to find work. As a result of this, job training programs should be set up in most places, and many benefits can be kept for the duration of an unemployment period, as long as that individual is looking for work, willing to accept any kind of work that comes along, works less than twenty hours a week, or is in a job training program. While these provisions do apply to SNAP benefit recipients, if they cannot find a spot in a job training program or is working twenty one hours a week, they then become ineligible.

This will have hugely detrimental effects on both the individuals who lose their benefits and their wider community. Being subjected to deeper poverty and food insecurity will almost certainly effect the mental health of these individuals. Being anxious and/or depressed can make it more difficult to find and keep employment, and being unemployed can lead to feelings of anxiety and/or depression, creating a cycle that may feel impossible to break. Additionally, being hungry can make it more difficult to concentrate and impacts memory and overall cognitive functioning, all things that can make finding and keeping work more difficult.

As is often the case in politics, the three-month limit on food stamps for adults without children was not meant to cause long term, systemic harm. In theory, when the economy is strong, people will be able to find jobs that lift and keep them out of poverty and hunger. However, when these jobs are unstable, low-paying, or just plain unavailable, the ruling causes great harm to this population.

Alternative Food Banks: Offering Fresh Ideas for Fresh Foods

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According to Feeding America, 48.1 million, or 14.8 %, people are food insecure in the United States. There are many programs that offer food assistance, both governmental and non-governmental. These include food banks, SNAP benefits, and WIC benefits, which specifically help women and children. Due to the growing need of American families, some communities have established non-traditional food programs.

Mobile Foodshare, which serves Hartford and Tolland counties in Connecticut, uses converted trucks to deliver food directly to those in need. Instead of having to go to a specific site, which may be difficult for some service users to get to, the trucks visit over seventy different sties throughout Hartford and Tolland counties, brining fresh, nutritious food directly to those in need.

Oftentimes, people who rely on food stamps and other forms of nutritional assistance do not eat as healthily as they would like. Fresh, healthy foods cost more than many pre-packaged, sugar and sodium laden foods, and for those who are on a strict budget, it is easy to see the appeal of buying less healthy foods and stretching the budget. While many farmers’ markets accept SNAP benefits, the produce is still expensive. The Produce Plus program has seen this problem and is working to solve it.

Produce Plus is an incentive program, run through the D.C. Department of Health, which gives individuals and families with SNAP or other governmental benefits extra money to use at farmer’s markets. Each day, an individual or family who qualifies can get two $5 checks per market, per day, to help them afford fresh, healthy, local foods. These checks are in addition to their benefit money, thus expanding their budget for fresh foods by at least $10 per day.

Operation Sharing, a church based charity in Ontario, began their Food for Friends project around ten years ago. Instead of the traditional food bank model, which is often full of processed, sugar, and sodium laden options, the system uses pre-loaded grocery cards which people can use to buy non-taxable food items. At local grocery stores, community members can donate to Food for Friends when they check out. Typically, non-taxable food items include fresh foods, such as meats, dairy, and vegetables, as opposed to processed, boxed goods.

BackPack Beginnings is a North Carolina based charity, which provides food, and comfort backpacks to local children. The comfort packs are for children who are being removed from their homes due to trauma, abuse, or neglect and contain items such as clean clothes, toiletries, and a stuffed animal.

The food backpacks were created to fill the weekend gap for children in food insecure households. Many students who receive free or reduced price lunches during the school week go home to empty cabinets on the weekends. Students are given a backpack with four meals for the weekend on Thursday, all of which include milk, fruits, and vegetables.

Hunger continues to be a major problem for many Americans. Traditional forms of food assistance are very helpful for food insecure individuals and families, but for many reasons, sometimes these forms of assistance are not available for people, or their assistance falls short of what is needed. The many alternatives to the traditional model aim to fill the gaps for struggling families.

The Forgotten Poor: More Children Living in Extreme Poverty

The number of children living in extreme poverty—on $2.00 or less per person per day in a household—grew significantly from 1996 until 2011. In 2011, 3.55 million children in 1.65 million households were living in extreme poverty in a given month. Income included TANF and other direct cash assistance programs, cash support from family and friends, and income from odd jobs and other sources.

The good news—if you can call it that—is means-tested benefits such as food stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and Section 8 vouchers lifts two-thirds of these households out of extreme poverty, but still leaves 1.17 million children living off the barest subsistence. Research by H. Luke Schaefer, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin, the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the department of sociology at John Hopkins University, documents the growing number of children being left behind.

helpUsing data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), they were able to determine how many children and families had slipped into extreme poverty since the beginning of welfare reform. Since welfare reform, the number of adults on TANF has decreased dramatically from 4.6 million at its peak to about one million in 2011.

Welfare reform was hailed as a great success as many of these single mothers were able to move into employment as the economy boomed in the 1990s, yet their research shows that a number of these mothers fell through the cracks. With pre-tax cash alone as the measure, children in extreme poverty grew from 1.4 million children in 636,000 households in 1996 to 3.55 million children in 1.65 million households in 2011.

In 2011, using cash alone as the criteria, 37 percent of households living in extreme poverty were headed by a married couple and 51 percent were headed by single females. Adding in means-tested subsidies, just over half of households in extreme poverty were headed by married couples and less than a third by single females, indicating single mothers were benefiting more from the subsidies. Again, using the cash-only measure, the study found that 47 percent of households living in extreme poverty were headed by non-Hispanic whites, and 46 percent by people of color. Adding the subsidies, the proportion headed by non-Hispanic whites rose to 61 percent. Contrary to popular believe, people living in extreme poverty is not limited to single mothers and people of color.

Living at the official poverty threshold for a family of three would roughly equate to $17 per day per person in a household. People living in “deep” poverty or half of the official poverty line would be subsisting on $8.50 per day. Children and families living in extreme poverty are trying to make it with less than one-fourth of the deep poverty rate. There is a severe price to pay. Life at the bottom of the income ladder is fraught with greater risk of homelessness and housing insecurity, lack of nutritious food and a host of other potential health calamities.

Most of these children have little or no chance of ever making it out of poverty. For children living in the stressful conditions of extreme poverty there is an increase in the probability of being victims of child abuse and neglect, being exposed to domestic violence and other traumatic occurrences, lack of educational stability, living in neighborhoods inundated with drugs, crime, and draconian policing policies that lead to criminal records and spending time behind bars. Not much of a future.

So what do we do about this? How can we begin to lift children of extreme poverty? The Hamilton Project at the prestigious Brookings Institute offers a number of poverty policy prescriptions that include increasing early childhood education, increasing mentoring and other support programs for disadvantaged youth, skills-building for low-income workers, support for the minimum wage and expansion of the EITC, among others.

All are good ideas, but it would take a few generations for any of these policies to have any meaningful impact on extreme poverty. Few policymakers seem to have a notion to address the real problem—growing economic inequality. The economic pie is growing, but every bit of the growth is being swallowed up by a handful of extremely wealthy people while the planet’s population continues to grow.

Back on Capitol Hill, Different Day, Not Much Has Changed

I’m back on Capitol Hill in the office of Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge. Rep. Fudge represents Cleveland and Akron, Ohio and currently serves as chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Fudge sits on the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. Both are areas of great interest to social workers. It’s a wonderful office to be in these days as spirits are riding high with the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the prospects of a “Johnny Football” Manziel-led Cleveland Browns going to the NFL playoffs. On top of that the Republican National Committee (RNC) recently selected Cleveland as the site for their 2016 presidential nominating convention and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just opened a fashion exhibition of Beyoncé’s personal collection. Cleveland is on the rise!

So what’s happening on the Hill? Not much. This, the 113th Congress is on track to be the least productive in history with 128 laws passed to date. You don’t have to go too far back to find the least productive Congress before this—it was the 112th Congress which passed a total of 284 laws. With 30 working days left, there is minimal probability that this Congress will pass 200 laws. You have to go back to the 93rd Congress (1973-1974) which passed 772 laws to find the most productive Congress in the past 20 years. The average number of laws passed during the last 20 sessions of Congress was 564. Enough said.

Keep in mind that many of the bills that pass both the House and Senate and are then signed into law by the President are ceremonial—that is they are laws that name a post office, courthouse, or airfield after prominent individuals or award medals to distinguished people or organizations. Many of the laws passed are extensions of previously enacted legislation. Many important bills are stalled.

So what gives? Why are Republicans in the House so consumed by parsimony that they refuse to invest in things that are vital to the social and economic health of the country? Their dislike for President Barack Obama is well documented so their opposition to Obamacare—a term they coined in disdain is expected if not defensible. You would think Republicans would welcome the fact that 8 million people have purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act another 6.7 million have signed up for Medicaid. Yet, the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal all or some part of the ACA while not being able to present an alternate plan.

It was a struggle for the House to agree to a consensus on the Farm Bill passed earlier this year. Ultimately House Republicans and the Democratic-led Senate settled on a bill with an $8.6 billion reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that issues food stamps to eligible households. This, at a time when the Department of Agriculture reported more than 47 million Americans had difficulty putting adequate food on their tables in 2012.

Legislation currently stalled in the House includes the reauthorization of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) which is the comprehensive transportation and infrastructure bill that funds highways, mass transit, bridges and other projects related to transportation. Despite the fact that many of the nation’s bridges, airports and highways are crumbling, lawmakers cannot find a compromise to provide adequate resources to rebuild America’s infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund will run out of money before Congress returns from its five-week recess that begins Friday if it fails to pass stopgap legislation this week. A 10-month, $11 billion patch is expected to be voted on by the Senate before week’s end.

Congress has not figured out what to do with the thousands of immigrant youth coming across the border to seek asylum in the U.S. It appears no action will be taken on President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to address the problem. A 2008 law protecting trafficking victims makes it difficult to send youth back to their home countries other than Mexico and Canada. Of course a comprehensive immigration bill is needed but may not get a hearing until after the 2016 elections.

Monday, the House and Senate agreed on a $17 billion bill to reform the Veterans Administration with $10 billion set aside for veterans to use at non-VA medical facilities. The bill was almost a no-go as House Republicans sought to offset spending with cuts to other programs. You know things are out of control when it is difficult for lawmakers to agree on providing adequate healthcare for veterans.

The bottom line is this is the only government we’ve got so we need to be involved in trying to make it better. More social workers are needed in politics and policy.

GOP Hunger Games: SNAP Benefits Cut for Millions of Americans

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The Hunger Games

Americans have been forced to endure the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, sequestration which sliced funding for important government programs, and a government shutdown that cost 24 Billion dollars. As of today, the bill expanding SNAP benefits to help Americans through the economic recovery has expired. After a failed attempt by Republicans to end the SNAP program earlier this year, there was no expectation Republicans would take any measure to prevent these cuts to SNAP from happening. It seems the GOP is hell bent on balancing the national debt on the backs of the poor, and the #GOPHungerGames hashtag is evidence to support this belief.

In case you have never seen the hit movie, Hunger Games, starring Jennifer Lawrence, the movie is about the rich using poverty and starvation to control rebellion within their society. In the movie, the Hunger Games is a competition devised by the powers to be to entertain the rich, but it is also used to control and give hope to the poor communities. Among the prizes for the winner of the Hunger Games competition is a monthly food allowance which sounds strangely familiar to SNAP benefits.

According to CBS News,

The USDA said the cuts to food stamps will leave people on food stamps an average of $1.40 to spend on each meal. But the cuts that went into effect Friday may not be the end of the misery for those on SNAP.

The House of Representatives wants to cut up to an additional $40 billion from the food stamp program as part of the pending farm bill. House and Senate negotiators have to meet later this year to try to come to an agreement on just how deep the cuts will be for SNAP.

Food stamps are the government’s biggest nutrition-assistance program for low-income people and, along with federal unemployment benefits, a key support system for the most vulnerable Americans.

What will happen to the children and families being affected by the current cuts and potential future cuts? According to current studies, 1 out of every 7 Americans will be affected. Why is there such a focus on cutting social welfare programs, but corporate welfare remains untouched?


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