This is no time for safety net cuts

Tom ChamberlainBy Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president 

On Nov. 1, more than 800,000 Oregonians got a little hungrier.

That’s because $40 billion was cut from the Federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) this month. The federal program provides money to buy food for 47 million Americans.  SNAP funding was increased by $40 billion as part of the 2009 federal stimulus legislation. From an economic standpoint, the spending increase made sense in 2009.

It still makes sense today, too.  Every SNAP dollar spent generates $1.80 for the American economy.  The $40 billion in SNAP funding has a $72 billion impact on the American economy, and in the pockets of workers. This cut actually hurts our economy.

While our economy is slowly recovering and jobs are being created, those jobs tend to be low-wage jobs  that will not support a family. They’re Walmart and Burger King jobs.

Eighty percent of SNAP families have at least one family member employed. On average, SNAP spends approximately $1.40 per meal.  The $40 billion cut results in the loss of billions of meals for poor, but working, people.

To put this into perspective — for an average family of four, the cuts will result in 21 fewer meals per month.

Who receives SNAP benefits? 21 percent of Oregonians who live in poverty ($11,500 for an individual, $23,500 for a family). And 87 percent of recipients live in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities. In fact, 1 in 4 U.S. children live in a household that receives food stamps, and 1 in 5 households with children still report sometimes not having enough money to buy food. 900,000 recipients are veterans.

Whether you and your family suffer from hunger or not, you are impacted. Hunger results in higher risks for mental disorders, iron deficiency and other nutritional deficiencies, headaches, stomach aches, respiratory illnesses and increased hospitalization. All told, in 2010 hunger-related health care costs were estimated at $130.5 billion.

Hungry kids have a harder time succeeding in school, and are 50 percent more likely to miss school days, leading to staggering disadvantages like being twice as likely to be suspended and 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade.

Proponents of the cuts state that the increase in SNAP funding was designed to stimulate the economy and give relief to unemployed families, and now that our economy is on the rebound it is time to end the SNAP stimulus component.

The problem is that 93 percent of the economic gains since the beginning of the Great Recession have gone to the top 1 percent.

Job creation has not been in middle class jobs. Low-wage jobs are swelling the ranks of the working poor. The shedding of the middle class public sector at the federal, state, and local levels has only compounded our economic problems. For far too many, the Great Recession isn’t over.

If the neocons and the corporatists continue to advance an agenda of low-wage jobs in exchange for increased wealth to the 1 percent, the demands for social safety net programs like SNAP will only increase.

This is exactly the wrong time for Congress to be defunding our social safety net. One just has to walk the streets of Portland and see the swelling ranks of the homeless to understand that our people are hungry, cold, and ill, and our government is failing them.

It is time to contact your senator and congressperson. It’s time to ask what side they’re on. And frankly, it’s time to do nothing less than demand that they restore the SNAP cuts.

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