Cuts to SNAP Show How Misinformed We Are About Poverty

The Guardian has recently published articles concerning what it calls “the other 1%.” Rather than focusing on the incredibly wealthy people who make up the top 1% of the financial ladder that received the ire of the Occupy movement, the periodical is writing about those at the financial bottom of our society. The most recent article in the series asks why the mainstream media in the United States avoids discussing poverty even though there are so many people in the country living in poverty. It is a valid question.  

The article cites a Pew Center for Excellence in Journalism report, which states that news outlets do not like to discuss poverty because advertisers do not want make potential customers uncomfortable. The discussion becomes an oversimplification of a complex series of issues. We may not avoid talking about poverty as much as we deny its existence or question those who live in poverty. 

A clear example of misunderstanding poverty and questioning those who need the safety nets provided by our government relates to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. Many Republicans in the House of Representatives used language that implied that there was fraud and able-bodied people should not be receiving the benefit so they proposed to cut $40 billion from the program.

In fact, Rep. Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma told a story about shopping and witnessing “physically fit” people buy their groceries with food stamps. Without actually knowing the people, he assumed that they were committing fraud because surely people who are in-shape must be allowing the government to feed them because they do not want to work.

A 2013 study released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that a majority of households receiving SNAP are able-bodied and employed, but it's not enough to get by. It is more comfortable to oversimplify and assume that healthy people are gaming the system rather than deal with the fact that people are underemployed and need government help.  

Sometimes there is just straight denial of poverty. Last year, a North Carolina legislator claimed that there was no poverty. It turns out that the facts prove him wrong. Three of the poorest cities in the U.S. are located in the Tar Heel State. 

The truth is that we need to discuss poverty. We need to talk about poverty in the U.S. in context. Poverty is not just a lack of food; it's a lack of quality health care, substandard expensive housing, schools without the same services as those in wealthier areas, unemployment, underemployment, and the inability to make a living wage among a myriad of other issues. 

The only way we can become more comfortable with discussing the problem is by acknowledging it. 

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Chris Hill

Chris is currently the Director of the Education & Law Project of the North Carolina Justice Center. Before joining the NCJC, Chris was the State Strategies Coordinator with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. While at the ACLU, Chris engaged in public education and legislative advocacy. Chris has also worked as a Supervising Attorney for Legal Services of New Jersey, where he sought to remove legal barriers impeding prisoners' successful re-entry back into society. In addition to extensive litigation experience, Chris has spent a great deal of his legal career, including his time as a National Association for Public Interest Law (now Equal Justice Works) Equal Justice Fellow, conducting outreach to educate the community about legal issues. Chris received his B.A. and his J.D. from Rutgers University. His posts do not reflect the opinion of his current employer.

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