By Lawrence E. Rafferty, (rafflaw) Weekend Blogger
We have all heard of the so-called War on Drugs and the recently maligned War on Poverty, but I submit that the real war we should be worried about is the War on the Poor of this country. The War on Drugs has not done much to stop the use of illegal drugs and the recent legalization of the sale of marijuana in Colorado may be a small step in the direction of ending the War on Drugs which has only succeeded in jailing thousands on minor drug offenses. The African-American community has been especially hard hit by this failed attempt to end the use of illegal substances.
However, the War on the Poor is in full swing and seems to be succeeding. One only has to look at the Farm Bill which is set to cut the SNAP program by anywhere between the $4 Billion in the Senate version and the $40 Billion in the House version. At a time when this same Congress is refusing to extend unemployment compensation, they are attempting a monumental double whammy by cutting the ability of the needy to survive by cutting Food Stamps.
“Somewhere in the US Capitol, a small group of legislators are hashing out a final five-year farm bill. Among many sizeable tasks, the conference committee must reconcile $40 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts from the House version with $4 billion in cuts from the Senate version.” The Nation It astounds me that in a time when the need is arguably the greatest, the austerity maniacs in Washington think the only demographics that need cutting is the poor and unemployed.
According to the Nation Magazine article linked above, the number that the House and Senate seem to be settling on is $9 Billion in cuts. At a time when the income inequality between the poor and the ultra rich has never been greater, the wisdom coming out of Washington is that the poor need to tighten their belts.
The proposed cuts to the food stamp program are not the only way Congress is taking it to the poor. One Senator has actually filed a bill to mandate that food stamp users must present a photo identification card in order to buy any food with the stamps.
‘”On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) introduced a bill that would force recipients of food stamps to show a valid photo ID to buy food. Anti-hunger advocates say that because many poor people cannot afford to purchase government IDs, the requirement would make it harder for low-income Americans to eat.
Vitter says the bill is designed to cut down on fraud. “Using a photo ID is standard in many day-to-day transactions, he said upon introducing the bill. “My bill will restore some accountability to the program so it’s not ruined for people who use it appropriately.”
But it’s not that simple. Vitter’s bill would also prevent many Americans from using the nutrition aid they’re eligible for. “Many poor people do not have photo ID’s, and it costs money they do not have to get them,” Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the advocacy organization Coalition on Human Needs, told the Times-Picayune on Wednesday. “Senator Vitter’s proposal will be especially tough on elderly and poor people who do not have the documents needed to get their photo ID, and who will struggle even to get to the necessary offices. They will wind up going without food.”‘ Mother Jones
Senator David Vitter should be familiar to most of you. He has an interesting past. He must have “real” concerns about the Food Stamp program because he also filed a bill in 2013 that proposed that convicted felons should be banned from the food stamp program, even if they have paid their debt to society. Consider the logic behind that idea. A convicted felon who can’t get food stamps to feed his family and who may have increased difficulty in finding work because of his/her past may be forced back to crime, just to feed his/her family if Sen. Vitter gets his way. And that poor prior felon probably goes back to jail and the cycle continues.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sen. Vitter alleges that the photo ID is needed to prevent the rampant abuse of food stamps by its users. That might be a good argument, if only it was true.
“Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who’s gotten over $500,000 in subsidy payments since 1995, is a particularly interesting case. While Noem is diplomatic in most public statements on food stamps, she endorses a common smear of the program when away from cameras. In a constituent letter obtained by ThinkProgress, Noem wrote that “loopholes and fraud in the current program have lead to federal spending on SNAP to increase [sic] by 270 percent over the past ten years.” Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) offers to same rationale for the cuts, and has taken $500,000 in farm subsidies as well.
In fact, the jump in food stamp enrollment is due almost entirely to the catastrophic economic collapse and ensuing Great Recession. Even amid that heightened strain on the program’s staff, “SNAP achieved its lowest error rates on record in fiscal year 2011,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Outright fraud is down to just one percent.” Think Progress
Isn’t it just a tad hypocritical to lie about alleged fraud in the food stamp program and accept thousands from the farm industry that is a sacred cow to these same legislators, but yet has even more fraud than the food stamp program? The photo identification idea seems to be borrowed from many state voter photo ID laws that have met with distrust among some courts, especially recently in Pennslyvania. Those same voter ID laws would also disproportionately impact the poor if allowed to stand.
Some supporters of the huge cuts claim that allowing benefits like these to stand just creates and enforces a dependent lower class. Once again, that might be a good argument if it was only based in fact. “But the reality for SNAP recipients is far from King’s image of a “dependency class.” The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that “only 4 percent that worked in the year before starting to receive SNAP did not work in the following year,” and adds that the raw total of recipients who work while enrolled in the program has tripled since 2000.
The think tank also notes that SNAP’s role as an unusually efficient stimulative multiplier is backed by Moody’s Analytics and the Congressional Budget Office.
Furthermore, the program keeps hundreds of thousands of vulnerable Americans out of the deepest pits of poverty, and even as the Great Recession swelled SNAP rolls, the program continued to push its erroneous payments rates to record lows ..” Think Progress
Why would Congress be so concerned about keeping people from going hungry and paying their bills? Why would it be more important for Congress to cut the needed benefits for the poor, but leave the farm subsidies for wealthy farmers mostly untouched? Are these attempts to “save” the poor and unemployed from an imagined dependency, actually designed to keep the poor from actually getting ahead and getting to the polls? What do you think?
Lawrence E. Rafferty, Weekend Blogger
“The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.”