Cut to Federal Nutrition Assistance Impacts Families and Children in Every PA County

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

A major funding cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) took effect November 1, impacting 1.8 million Pennsylvanians.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a powerful tool to help keep families out of poverty. Benefits are modest, offering many Pennsylvania families a crucial bridge in this slow economic recovery.

The November 1 cut is the result of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted SNAP to strengthen the economy and ease hardship in the wake of the recession. The cut totals $5 billion nationwide for the remaining months of the federal fiscal year (November 2013-September 2014), including $183 million in Pennsylvania.

Nearly 66 cents of every dollar cut in Pennsylvania ($120 million) will reduce the benefits of households with children. Another 37 cents out of every dollar cut ($68 million) will reduce benefits for Pennsylvanians who are elderly or living with disabilities. Click here or on the map below to view how many people, households, and children are impacted by the cut to SNAP in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

PA County Map

In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to spur the economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. Benefits boost demand for farm produce, helping to keep our nation’s farms strong.

The cuts may force some Pennsylvanians to choose between food and other priorities. Ruth Vesa, a 78-year-old widow in Pittsburgh, said in August when the cuts were announced: “I’m very thankful for the food stamp program because it enables me to have good food to eat and not be worried about my medical prescriptions. Otherwise I would have to make a choice. Any cuts to the program would be hurtful to me personally.”

For a family of three, the cut will likely mean a reduction of $29 a month – $319 for the remaining 11 months of the fiscal year. This is a serious loss for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal. It is the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four or 16 meals for a family of three.

That’s the bad news. The even worse news is that additional cuts to SNAP could be on the way. In September, the U.S. House narrowly approved legislation that would cut $39 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade. The Senate has not taken up the bill.

If enacted, a cut that large would deny SNAP to approximately 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 and to an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the coming decade, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Those who would be thrown off the program include many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages.

Nearly 1.8 Million in PA Will See Food Assistance Cut

SNAP helps nearly 1 in 3 U.S. children get enough to eat. All of them will see their benefits cut in November.By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Nutrition assistance is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a powerful tool to help keep families out of poverty. Come November, this critical federal assistance will be cut, making it that much more difficult for 1.8 million Pennsylvanians to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

The November cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the program formerly known as food stamps, will impact all of the more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive benefits. It will likely amount to a reduction of $29 a month in benefits for a family of three — $319 in all through September 2014. This is a serious loss for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

To put the cut in some perspective, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates it will equal out to 21 lost meals per month for a family of four or 16 lost meals per month for a family of three.

A majority of those who receive SNAP benefits are children and the elderly, for whom food assistance is essential. SNAP helps nearly one in three children in the U.S. get enough to eat. All 22 million of them will see their benefits cut in November.

Elderly Pennsylvanians will also be affected. People like Ruth Vesa, a 78-year-old widow in Pittsburgh and Just Harvest client, who said: “I'm very thankful for the food stamp program because it enables me to have good food to eat and not be worried about my medical prescriptions. Otherwise I would have to make a choice. Any cuts to the program would be hurtful to me personally.”

In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to spur the economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. Benefits boost demand for farm produce, helping to keep our nation’s farms strong.

So why is it being cut? The cut is the result of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted SNAP benefits to strengthen the economy and ease hardship in the wake of the recession. This small increase has been a lifeline for many Pennsylvanians, a majority of whom work but earn low wages. It has allowed them to stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Even though the economy is still weak and families are still struggling, Congress has not acted to extend the modest increase in nutrition assistance beyond November. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives could vote on cutting the program by $20 billion or more in the coming weeks. If enacted, such cuts could leave many families and their children without assistance to put food on the table when they need it most.

That is the wrong path for the wellbeing of our nation, the health of our families, and the growth of our economy.

Diversion Politics and Factual Errors with ‘Americans for a Tiny Sliver of Rich People’

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Jennifer Stefano, the Pennsylvania director of Americans for Prosperity, published an op-ed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News Friday – the latest salvo in an organized right-wing assault on nutrition assistance and other safety net spending.

The op-ed claims that the number of Americans who receive some kind of subsidized food assistance is at more than 101 million and “has surpassed the number of full-time private-sector workers in our country.” Actually, there are 114 million private-sector workers in the United States, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data for June 2013, but who’s counting.

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative advocacy group funded in part by the Koch Brothers. It is the 1% looking out for the interests of the 1%.

As I noted, Jennifer Stefano’s op-ed is part of a larger campaign to cut safety net spending. Food stamp spending in the current slow economy has temporarily risen to about 0.5% of GDP, from about 0.33% of GDP in the early 1980s recession. Of course, that recession was much shorter and shallower nationally than the recent Great Recession.

Today food assistance remains well targeted: 85% of households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, have gross incomes below the poverty line; 98.5% have disposable (or “net”) incomes below the poverty line. SNAP provides only $1.50 per person per meal and is scheduled to drop to $1.30 per person per meal in November. (Stefano has nothing to say about the preservation of farm subsidies for agribusiness – the most generous “food program” in the United States.)

Stefano presents the temporary growth in food assistance as a “kitchen table” issue. Let’s put it in perspective. Another kitchen table issue is the dramatic decline in the share of the economic pie going to the vast 99% of Americans – because the share going to the top 1% has risen by about 10 percentage points, The temporary increase in food stamps spending is thus about 1/50 the size of the not-so-temporary increase in the share of income going to the Koch Brothers and, I’m guessing, other funders of Americans for Prosperity.

Stefano’s piece is part of a well-oiled effort to distract middle-class families from the real cause of their economic struggles. When you look at the facts, that cause is not rising taxes or spending on social programs. It’s the rise in economic inequality (and, to a lesser degree, the fall in taxes paid by the more affluent).

Here’s hoping that Pennsylvanians and Americans will keep their eyes on the ball and not fall for the obfuscations of groups like Stefano’s.

PA’s Newest Abomination Introduced in State House

A new bill would deny food stamps to any woman who cannot prove her child was conceived via rape.  If you think Richard Nourdock and Todd Akin are extreme include RoseMarie Swanger, Tom Caltagirone, Mark Gillen, Keith Gillespie, Adam Harris and Mike Tobash to that list.

Most rapes aren’t reported to the police.  It may be that only 3% of rapists ever go to prison and only 9% are event prosecuted.  Few women are willing to go through more torment dispensed by our injustice system.  Denying infants food and nutrition, somehow, is a Christian value among this bill’s sponsors.  Caltagirone is the lone Democratic sponsor of the bill but he represents the Catholic Church in Harrisburg and does their bidding.

The bill denies welfare payments to low income women based on the number of children they have.  What right, first of all, do they have to dictate to others on their personal sexual behavior?  People have the right to engage in consensual sex.  I find Caltagirone’s position especially hypocritical considering he was charged with lying naked in his District office for a female staffer to see when she entered the office.  He allegedly ran out after her nude and carrying a gun.  Tom Corbett, according to Rep. Caltagirone to me, helped get him off on the charge and is why he gave him a $500 contribution in his first run for AG.  When I disclosed that contribution he came after me.  Now, claiming to be a Christian, he’d deny food to hungry children because he doesn’t like their parent’s sexual proclivities.

How Christian of these snakes.

Corbett Cutting Food Stamp Eligibility

During the worst economic recession in eighty years Gov. Tom Corbett has decided to cut eligibility for food stamps.  As unemployment lines snake around blocks, four applicants fight for each job, public sector employees are sent out to pasture by the Governor’s heartless budget cuts and 200,000 Pennsylvanians are thrown off medical coverage now they’ll also have to go hungry.

Half of all children now go to bed hungry.  With all of the demands on human services caused by failed conservative economic policies Corbett turned around and cut the budget for DPW by $426 million.  To balance that budget cutting exercise he is now going to cap food stamp eligibility to $2,000 in assets.  Heck, a nice sofa or plasma TV would condemn someone to the food bank.  

This is beyond heartless.  This is criminal.  Refusing to provide heating assistance, medical care and food stamps means an all out war on poor people.  First they cut regulations for Wall Street then they bailed them out while you lost your home and job (or the other way around, job then home).  Then they blamed you for buying your house even though bankers fraudulently sold you a mortgage.  Then they gutted your pension and sunk your 401(k).  Conservatives then gutted federal and state programs for the unemployed, the poor and minorities.  Then they stripped you of your right to vote, slashed funding for public education and went after a woman’s right to determine what she does with her own body.  Big, conservative government declared class war and you’re losing.  Now they won’t allow you to qualify for food stamps.

What are you going to do about it, vote Republican again?

Hunger In America

Fifteen per cent of Americans now live in poverty.  Food stamp use is at record levels as the effects of the 2008 global economic collapse continue to reverberate through the nation.  Today is Blog Action Day and this year’s topic is food.  This is a major topic and encompasses the monopolies of major corporations now controlling our food system, the use of genetically modified foods, fair trade, locally grown foods, community supported agriculture and the effect of poverty on food stamp use.

We are what we eat.  The American diet has traditionally been high in fat, protein and short on vegetables, grains and other healthy foods.  The results are high incidences of cancer and heart disease.  There are things each of us can do to improve our diets.  We joined a csa, a community supported farm which uses natural and organic methods to raise food.  I shop at a local meat market which also uses these time tested methods and when I buy at a supermarket I pay extra for chicken raised naturally instead of filled with chemicals.  I attempt to buy as much as possible from area and regional producers to minimize the carbon footprint of my shopping.

We are fortunate that we can do these things.  Urban deserts exist everywhere where millions of people have no access to supermarkets for fresh food, where they can get vegetables and fruit.  Those living in poverty depend on inadequate amounts of food stamps to tweak out an existence.  The economic failures of conservative voodoo economics turned too many of us into users of food stamps.  Eight million people lost their jobs under George W. Bush and though the job situation has improved the underlying issue of loss of manufacturing has yet to be addressed.

Twenty million manufacturing jobs were lost since the Reagan Revolution began to transform America as we knew it.  These middle class, family supporting jobs were outsourced to the third world and began descending the United States into third world status.  This globalization includes the food industry which has increased the use of proprietary seeds, genetically modified foods, control of markets and the driving of family farmers both here and around the world, out of business.  A few major corporations now control most of our food supply.

The reaction to this has been a rise in fair trade food, locally grown and produced food, csa’s and farmer’s markets.  Know where your food was produced, how and when.  We’ve grown accustomed to having fruits and vegetables available year round instead of eating what’s in season.  These foods are picked before ripe so they can be shipped halfway around the world, often from southern hemisphere nations like Chile.

Trillions of dollars were lost in the financial collapse triggered by unregulated securities manufactured by Wall Street to create a huge global casino.  That casino crashed taking people’s homes, jobs, retirements and savings along with it.  The increase in poverty created by this debacle has hit every single community.  Food stamp use has ameliorated some of the hunger caused by these failed economic policies but is not enough to really feed people.  Here are a few numbers:

In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States 1,2 (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v.)

In 2010, about one-third of food-insecure households (6.7 million households, or 5.4 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security (compared with 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007 (). In households with very low food shecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because of the household’s food insecurity (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v., USDA 2008, p. iii.) .

In 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (3.9 million households.) In one percent of households with children,one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. vi).

Interestingly those who were the architects of this economic failure in Washington are now blaming President Obama for their failures.  Newt Gingrich who served as Speaker of the House in the ’90’s when much of the deregulation of the financial markets happened, said this:

“The most successful food stamp president in American history”

This is passing the buck for failures he engaged in and is a reversal of his philosophy of personal responsibility.  This is like blaming the man who follows the horses in a parade to clean up their manure for putting the debris on the road himself.  The hypocrisy of the statement smells as badly as the horse manure.

Too many Americans live in hunger in the richest nation on earth.  The richest 1% now own 40% of all our wealth and get 24% of all new income produced.  Meanwhile the rest of us grown poorer and hungrier.  The urban poor are trapped in food deserts and those on food stamps struggle to eat at the end of each month.  School lunch programs are being cut and hungry children deprived of necessary nutrition.

We need to turn around our thinking on food, nutrition and its supply and distribution.  Begin by eating healthier yourself and learning about food, how it is grown and how it comes to your plate.  Help provide food for the poor and vote for those people dedicated to ending poverty and hunger.