In a recovering economy, one would think that our legislators would do everything in their power to assist struggling Americans. For the past five years, ordinary people have been trying to keep their heads above water in the midst of mounting foreclosures, historic unemployment levels and rising levels of food insecurity. Yet this week in the House of Representatives, Republicans have continued their ruthless crusade against the poor by taking up a measure that would cut $40 billion in food assistance.
Somehow along the way, conservatives in this country began to criticize people on public assistance programs – including food assistance – and categorize those individuals who rely on these programs as “dependent on government.” Sadly, the GOP seems to have internalized this faulty rhetoric in every way. We, however, cannot allow their ideological arguments to determine the fate of our core anti-hunger program.
Every day, millions of Americans wake up and wonder how they will feed themselves or their families. According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data, nearly 50 million Americans had difficulty at some point last year providing food to all the members of their household due to a lack of resources. No wonder more than 47 million people rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) each month, including 22 million children.
It would be shameful if Congress did not act to help thwart food insecurity in our nation. Unfortunately, at this point it is impossible to have a discussion of the food needs in America and the federal response without examining the dysfunction that has transpired in the House of Representatives in just the past few months.
In late June, House Republicans tried and failed to pass a farm bill that included a $20.5 billion slash to SNAP benefits — which would negatively affect more than 50,000 people in Wisconsin and nearly 2 million people across America. This devastating move failed, not only because of strong Democratic opposition but also because the Republican Party stands at odds with itself. In an unprecedented move less than one month later, House Republicans passed a farm bill stripped of its nutrition programs, thereby ignoring an entire population. The House sent a strong message to America that day: that our working poor and their families have neither a seat nor food at the table.
The Republican strategy to punish the poor did not stop there. Now the House passed a bill that doubled the cuts to SNAP included in the Republicans first farm bill proposal. Their bill cuts eligibility for millions and institute stringent new work requirements. It aims to eliminate benefits for out-of-work adults, even in high-unemployment areas. It would actually provide states with financial incentives to cut SNAP participation. In addition, it would add new hurdles that make it more difficult to administer benefits. Finally, it would include punitive measures–such as instituting costly mandatory drug testing for all beneficiaries. If the nutrition cuts in the first farm bill did not go far enough to take food from the mouths of hungry families, this legislation surely will.
It appears that the loudest voices within the Republican Party, the ones who have an illogical aversion to feeding children, are driving their colleagues down a destructive highway with no exits. I refuse to sit silently as they try to take us all for a ride. With talk of a government shutdown and of welfare reform, I keep asking myself: is it 1995 or 2013? It’s the same sad script; only the cast has changed.
The House GOP seems to have forgotten that in America, when our neighbors are hurting, we do all we can to lend support. This guiding philosophy is an essential part of who we are as a community and as a nation. Contrary to today’s Republican ideology, our nation does not suffer when we help our neighbors. It prospers.
This week, we will determine the future of SNAP through an up-or-down vote on the House floor. Though our debate on SNAP funding will occur in the shadows of our debate to pass a bill funding our government, my Democratic colleagues and I will not remain voiceless while the importance and relevance of SNAP is diminished or ignored.
Unlike many legislative decisions, the choice we must make is simple: do we extend a hand to keep food on the table in a tough economy and help lift millions out of poverty–or do we push them further within poverty’s grip? For me, the choice is clear. As a nation and as a Congress, we must work to pull hungry and struggling Americans away from the financial cliff, not force them closer to the edge.