Approximately two weeks ago, the Republican-controlled House approved a version of the Farm Bill out of the House Agriculture committee, a bill unbelievably draconian and hostile, particularly towards poor people. Included in the bill was a seismic cut to food stamps (SNAP) on the magnitude of almost $21 billion over the next decade, in what amounts to an elimination of 2 million people from the program. The cuts in this bill are heartless at their core; yet, they also represent an incredible display of ineptitude by policy makers and members of Congress.
It's difficult to know where to start. I suppose we could start with the fact that food stamps have a stimulating effect on the economy. Moody Analytics, in assessing the impact on GDP that food stamps have, estimates that for every dollar of food stamps spent, there is an increase of $1.73 in economic activity. In other words, the cuts to food stamps could actually undermine any potential economic recovery.
There is also the simple fact that food stamps keep a lot of people from going hungry. In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report that not only do SNAP benefits keep a lot of people from going hungry, but they also help families purchase more nutritious foods, and they are actually projected to decrease as the economy begins to rebound. Close to half of the recipients of SNAP benefits also happen to be children. From a policy perspective, there are many reasons to avoid making cuts to the program.
Unfortunately, these reasons are not enough. There is a supposed moral impetus driving these cuts, a pathological desire to see to it that the "culture of dependency" is snuffed out, as the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" clause remains embedded within dominant political ideology. Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher out of Tennessee recently summed up these exact sentiments when he informed a gathering in Memphis that food stamps essentially "steal from those in the country and give to others in the country." The culture of dependency is destroying America, so the story goes.
This message, of course, has always been reserved for the poor. This is in fact the scandal and hypocrisy of such a message. It could never be leveled at the wealthy and powerful. If it were, there would be more talk in congressional circles about prosecuting Wall Street. If it were, there would be considerably more action taken in combating tax evasion. If it were, then maybe Rep. Fincher would stop taking millions of dollars in farm subsidies and call for an end to such subsidies.
But it can't, because in the world of elites, reckless banking practices come with the territory and shouldn't be punished. Evading taxes is seen as an excuse to reward those very same tax evaders. And in their world, receiving millions of dollars in farm subsidies is doing the "Lord's work," while receiving assistance in an attempt to ensure that your family does not go hungry is "stealing from those in the country to give to others in the country."
What a strange and cruel world.