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GOP should not cut food stamps

I write about a debate now occurring in Congress in which the GOP is threatening millions of American families, including 200,000 Iowa households. The debate is over food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

To understand the problem, we need only review the survey-report issued by the Department of Agriculture on Sept. 4. The report shows that nearly 49 million Americans lived in “food insecure” households last year. This means family members lack consistent access to adequate food throughout the year. In short, 49 million Americans (more than 16 times the Iowa population) went hungry for long periods in 2012. Worse, children were found to be hungry in 10 percent of all U.S. families with children. The agency found that hunger rates since the recession are much higher than before.

Many people have a misunderstanding of this hunger; many think the hungry are the same persons who are homeless. In fact, in most cases the hungry are persons who work at low-paying jobs or are disabled from work.

The GOP (mostly the House GOP) wants to cut food stamps. Yet, food stamps have been the centerpiece of our country’s safety net for the poor. Benefits are adjusted for income. Recipients can use SNAP benefits only for food, notwithstanding the assertion by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that he knows food stamps are used for bail and tattoos. Nearly 48 million Americans now receive food stamps (around 15.3 percent of the approximately 314 million Americans), at an annual cost to us of approximately $80 billion.

No matter what Congress decides, food-stamp expenditures will be reduced in November, when a provision in the 2009 stimulus bill expires. House Republicans, however, propose cutting an additional $40 billion.  The GOP cuts would push 4 million to 6 million low-income people off the rolls. That includes millions of very low-income unemployed people who want to work but cannot find jobs. 

The GOP proposal is an irresponsible attempt to take food from the mouths of America’s poorest people. As stated by Sen. Hubert Humphrey, “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.”

We can only pass that test by not cutting food stamps but rather by strengthening the safety net that provides a bare minimum for our society’s neediest. You should contact Reps. Tom Latham and King to ask they not cut food stamps.

Paul McAndrew

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