Snap entitlement judgments will hurt young, vulnerable

The proponents of cuts to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program say they would like to replace “the lifestyle of government dependency with the self-respect and upward economic mobility that comes from work.” So would we.

So would the millions of Americans who supplement their meager wages with the government assistance. It just hasn’t worked out that way in our so-called jobless recovery.

Congressional Republicans – all but 15 of them, anyway – insist on framing this debate by perpetuating the myth that shiftless, able-bodied Americans are gaming the system. A lot of those Republicans probably even believe it, although facts say otherwise.

The Republicans say their bill is designed to force people to return to the work force. But current rules limit SNAP benefits for adults deemed able to work to a total of three months over three years.

And while federal law includes a work requirement for food stamp recipients, in the last year alone 45 out of 50 states were granted a waiver on that requirement because of high unemployment.

The GOP cites SNAP’s growth as evidence of bloated bureaucracy, but it is actually one of the most efficient government assistance programs in operation, with an efficiency of 96.2 percent. The administrative expenses for SNAP amount to less than 5 percent of total cost.

Some Republicans have even denied these cuts will deprive kids of food, although it’s difficult to imagine how they wouldn’t when already hunger is so prevalent in our own community. Nearly a quarter of Calhoun County’s children are “food insecure,” meaning they are at risk of missing a meal.

Food stamp disbursements kept an estimated 4 million people above the poverty line in 2012, according to a Census report released last week. Looking at households that received SNAP funds in 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of those households included children.

Republicans have argued the benefits are too generous, but the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the House legislation would deny benefits to 3.8 million people who live on an average of $1.33 per meal.

Were the House Republicans who voted for this willing to look at facts, they’d instead be talking about the betrayal of U.S. citizens who are increasingly finding it impossible to realize the American promise of upward mobility in exchange for their labor and service to their nation.

It’s been well documented that the bulk of our nation’s income goes to the wealthiest Americans. In 2012, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans earned more than 19 percent of the country’s household income – their largest share since 1928.

And while the House bill would quite literally take food away from kids and vulnerable adults – and place enormous pressure on food banks and pantries that already struggle to meet the needs – it is quite generous to corporate farming interests.

The $20 billion in annual farm subsidies the House approved is but one example of how these so-called fiscal hawks choose their priorities.

As we’ve written previously, we’d welcome an honest debate about how to better manage assistance to low-income Americans.

We’ve joined calls by the Association of Health Care Journalists, for example, for the USDA to disclose what foods are purchased by SNAP beneficiaries and the profits specific retailers make from the program.

But we’re not getting an honest debate from conservative Republicans. Instead, we’re getting a steady diet of indifference to the plight of a growing number of Americans.