A cooperative-owned newspaper serving NW Wisconsin since 1933
Sept. 25, 2013 Gary King/editor Editor's post: Republicans and the “act of supreme indifference” - how deep cuts to food stamps will likely deliver a belly punch to many children of Burnett and surrounding counties
There’s a line from a famous comedy - a movie in which a millionaire playboy is being persuaded by his father to marry a woman he isn’t interested in romantically, to keep the family lineage within the upper crust of society.
“She really is quite beautiful when the light hits her just right,” says the son, who pauses and then adds, “Of course, you can’t depend on that light.”
That line could work with either gender, if you’re thinking it may be more sexist than funny.
This week a person responding online to a news article defended the Republicans and their proclivity for making cuts to welfare programs by saying they aren’t villainous. In fact, they often willingly give more financial aid to their communities, including money to food shelfs, thus, in a way, creating their own safety net for the poor.
That may have been sincere but also simplistic.
And it begs the question: Can we depend on that help?
The person was responding to an article about the GOP-controlled Congress passing a bill last Thursday (Sept. 19) that would cut $40 billion over the next decade from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, and require stiffer requirements not unlike the welfare reform of the 1990s.
The bill will require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or enroll in a work-training program in order to receive SNAP benefits. It would also limit the time program recipients could get benefits - to three months.
“This bill makes getting Americans back to work a priority again for our nation’s welfare program,” House Speaker John A. Boehner was quoted as saying.
There’s some sound reasoning in the reform.
But here’s the problem: Children will bear the brunt of it.
“Yes, the federal government has budget problems, but children didn’t cause them and cutting anti-hunger investments is the wrong way to solve them,” Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus Campaign for Children, told the New York Times.
The number of food stamp recipients, according to the Times, has climbed by millions over the past four years, and now the program helps feed one in eight Americans and nearly one in four children.
If you’re talking about our neighborhood it’s much higher.
In Burnett County, for example, it’s closer to one in every two children - 55.6 percent, according to Katherine Peterson, director of Burnett County Health and Human Services.
In general, Burnett County has 26.3 percent of its population receiving food share/food stamps, compared with 19 percent statewide. For children, the 55.6 percent benefitting from those programs is nearly twice the state percentage, which is 34 percent. Washburn and a handful of other neighboring counties also have higher percentages of children getting federal food assistance.
Although the federal food stamp program is meant as a supplement to help feed the economically challenged, Panera Bread founder and CEO Ron Shaich recently attempted to live on just the subsidy amount, spending $4.50 a day on food - for a week.
He said his diet consisted of a breakfast of cereal with no milk, a lunch of lentils and chickpeas and a pasta dinner. He bought carrots to snack on between meals, but he had no money for things like coffee, yogurt or milk.
By the third day he was blogging on his LinkedIn account that he was feeling “bloated and weak” and by the fourth day he said his thoughts were “consumed by food.”
At the end of it all he said he felt like an outsider - a person of want in a land of plenty.
The New York Times, which has created “The Food Stamps News” on its website, has editorialized the Republican move as “another insult to the poor” and an “act of supreme indifference.” But the paper also provides some objective insight on the history of the program and how it works.
Local efforts to battle hunger in recent years have been impressive, with churches and local individuals and businesses stepping up to help with food drives and food shelves, from gathering to distribution.
But the battle on hunger just got more daunting because the GOP is focusing on only bottom lines and what comes off to many as a resentment of the poor, as they savage the safety net.
Coupled with their “take my toys and go home” ultimatums when dealing with the budget and trying to defund Obamacare, it appears the GOP is going for broke in setting a new low of behavior and representation.
It’s estimated 3.8 million people will be forced out of the food stamp program in 2014 nationwide - and that includes a good percentage of children in this country.
And you can multiply that percentage times two if you’re talking our own backyard.
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