Playing politics with food stamps

Last year, with 13 million unemployed and one in six living below the official poverty level, over 46 million Americans – almost half of them children – used food stamps to get their basic foods. Nearly 75 percent of participants are families with children. According to the Census Bureau, the program lifted 5.2 million Americans over the poverty line in 2010.  And without food stamps, the poverty rate would have been over 21 percent for children. 

Some in our country, however, want to blame those that temporarily rely on food stamps for their plight. I find this wrongheaded for a number of reasons. For one, as a Catholic, I have always believed we have a moral obligation to alleviate suffering and hunger.  In the words of Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me food.” In the deeds of Christ, who brought plenty in the midst of want with the miracle of loaves and fishes. Preventing our fellow citizens from starving and suffering the effects of malnutrition is a basic component of what good government does.

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For another, the food stamp program is more than just a safety net to help families get back on their feet. It is an investment in our nation’s future. Countless studies have shown that kids with access to a nutritious breakfast learn more and perform better in school. And for every dollar spent on food stamps, according to Moody’s, $1.73 in economic activity is generated. In fact, food stamps account for 40 percent of sales at the 1,280-store Save-A-Lot chain, according to CEO Craig Herbert.

The goal, of course, is for full employment in this country at wages that allow people to feed and house themselves. Families on food stamps want that too. A week ago, I had the privilege of meeting a woman with three children in my district who lost her job at the beginning of the recent recession. She wants to work, but has so far been unable to find permanent employment, and has been in and out of the workforce over the last two years due to company lay-offs. Because her unemployment benefits take her above the income threshold for food stamps, she relies on food banks to help her feed her children – and they only eat one meal a day. The fact that this woman and her family, living on the threshold of poverty, does not even qualify for food stamps illustrates that this is not the time to slash the safety net further. 

In short, Food Stamps is a critical anti-hunger program that works. It feeds millions of Americans every day, with one of the lowest error rates of any federal program. And yet, purely for ideological reasons, Republicans seek to condemn millions of children to hunger. The American people deserve better leadership from us. We have to stand up for middle-class and working families, and support the programs that make our country a humane one.  

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies as the Ranking Member.


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