And in the America we thought we lived in, the fact that millions of our own citizens are going hungry should be no small matter at all.
But somehow, that America - one of the richest and supposedly most morally advanced in the world - has turned mean and suspicious of its own citizens. Because never mind the unemployment rate, the low wages, the increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us - many in Congress still believe that 47 million living in poverty aren't entitled to the basic necessities of life. Food is not a basic right of citizenship but a negotiable privilege controlled by members of Congress, the median net worth of whom exceeds a million dollars. (Many of whom, by the way, receive subsidies from the Farm Bill.)
Because of the way the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts are structured, most of those shouldering the cuts will be here in Pennsylvania and 14 other states; Congress changed a "heat and eat" program that gave extra SNAP benefits to people in states with higher energy expenses. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger estimates that 175,000 households will lose an average of $65 per month in benefits. The loss represents $136 million annually for Pennsylvania. (See Opinion, Next Page.)
A few silver linings do exist; one is a $125 million bipartisan fresh-food financing initiative pushed by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz. Another development, though, has us more optimistic:
Friday, Walmart adjusted its profit projections downward for its fourth quarter, citing November cuts to the food-stamp program that hit the retailer harder than expected. Now, if only Walmart and other grocery retailers combined their own self interest with their power over Congress and started advocating for their poorer customers . . .
If compassion and kindness - if taking care of our own - are no longer principles native to this country, then maybe the profit motive will do a better job.
It's true that SNAP takes up the lion's share of the $100 billion-a-year Farm Bill, and spending has grown since the recession of 2008. But the Farm Bill also includes billions in corporate welfare and subsidies to farmers, some of which will be decreased and some increased in the new bill, which is expected to win Senate approval. Consider, for example, dairy subsidies, which, according to the Environmental Working Group, reached $447 million in 2012. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census reports that the nation has 9 million dairy cows.
If you do the math, one thing is clear: If you have a choice in your next life to come back as a poor person or a cow, make sure you choose the cow.