In the vortex of bunk that serves as the politics of the Right, the refrain of “austerity” rings often, hollow and cruel. We all know the talking points by now. “We’re broke. Poverty relief and entitlement programs are bloated and need reform. You can’t spend your way out of a recession but you can do it with tax-breaks. Pay up, little people–the rich need more comforts.”
“Austerity,” seems to be defined by sacrifices from those who can least afford to make them and wealth for those who were already plenty wealthy. To help this austerity along, a permanent panic over the state of public finances is encouraged by the Right, the political servants of the 1%.
This state of panic featured prominently in the Paul Ryan’s recent budget plan approved by a Republican-dominated House of Representatives at the end of March. Sometimes, though, in a panic (or an induced panic), we become so fixated on relieving the one attention-demanding emergency that we can easily forget what else we might be losing.
While tax breaks are sheltered and military spending continues to rise in his latest budget proposal, Paul Ryan’s budget mandates cuts directly to the most vital and important of our safety net features: poverty relief programs. In terms of flexibility to grow and shrink as the economy gets better or worse, SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp program) is designed to offer a highly responsive public mechanism for avoiding mass misery in times of economic crisis. An efficient and humane program, SNAP is antithetical to everything on the Right so it is with little surprise we note that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
“Paul Ryan’s budget plan includes cuts in SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) of $133.5 billion — more than 17 percent — over the next ten years (2013-2022), which would necessitate ending assistance for millions of low-income families, cutting benefits for millions of such households, or some combination of the two.”
This sort of hustle ends up serving the 1% two times. For one, the 1% is already severely undertaxed and is more likely to escape that financial responsibility when there’s less of a demand for safety net funding. Secondly, by starving out poverty relief programs like SNAP, the 1% creates a flooded low-income labor-market, where workers are desperate and often unwilling to sacrifice their subsistence paycheck to resist the workplace encroachments of their employers.
Beyond the hypocrisy of gutting social services while giving billionaires and weapons dealers more money, by attacking poverty programs in a time of economic hardship the American Right-Wing has proven how little human suffering accounts in their political equations.
In comparison to the right wing propaganda about deficits and budget austerity there is the misery of reality in what the economic downturn has meant for those Americans who were hardest hit. For all the glimmers of an economic recovery, the lives of America’s working classes are a tightrope balancing act between higher bills and lower wages. For those who don’t have jobs, it’s currently an average of a 40-month search before you’ll find one. When you do find one, it’ll probably pay less than you expect it to. That sort of entrenched economic blight can change many lives from barely afloat to mired in extreme poverty.
Oftentimes, SNAP is what makes the difference. According to a recent study by the Center for American Progress
“In 2009 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was responsible for lifting the income of 3.6 million Americans over the poverty line, providing an average of less than $300 in monthly food stamps to families in need. In 2010 this program lifted 3.9 million Americans above poverty, including 1.7 million children.”
And in fact, America’s dependence on the SNAP program has been all the more important because of the tight job market and slow economy. From the economic collapse of 2007 until the start of the recovery in 2011, food stamp rolls grew from 26.3 million to almost 45 million.
The millionaires in our nation’s capital may never have to make eye contact with the reality of our ongoing recession. The rest of us are not so lucky. Half of the rest of us are poor or low-income. Fifty-seven percent of American children live in a poor or low-income family. Out of all SNAP food stamp funding, approximately 75% goes precisely to these poor or low-income families with kids.
As further explained in the Center for American Progress study listed above, for every 1 billion spent on the SNAP program each year, approximately 14,000 Americans are able to find or keep their jobs. Another way of thinking about this is that approximately 1 million Americans were able to keep or find work in 2011 because of SNAP expenditures.
According to the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, in 2009 alone SNAP reduced the poverty rate by 8%. In 2011, food stamps lessened the number of children living in extreme poverty by nearly half.
The GOP, in order to maintain its wars and tax-cuts, is perfectly fine with that half going back under the poverty line. But even the meanness of cutting food stamps is only outdone by the stupidity of doing so. Beyond cruel, it is economically counter-productive to cut food stamps in a recovering economy.
And for a change it’s not just leftists who have noticed. Besides saving or creating 14,000 jobs for every $1 billion spent on food stamps annually, the food stamp program pumps money back into local economies to many other beneficial effects. According to CBPP, SNAP benefits
“are one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the economy quickly. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in economic activity. Similarly, the Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.”
It turns out that feeding the nation’s neediest families is more than the right thing to do. As healthy as it is for them it might be even healthier for the economy.
It takes a real jerk to smack the food away from a hungry kid’s mouth. That jerk, it turns out, is also a fool.