Who likes a moocher?
No one. But who is a moocher? Is a child a moocher? Is an elderly person who needs help a moocher? How about a person with a disability or a person who can't find a job in an area of high unemployment? No, all these people need help because of their circumstances.
Yet, there seems to be a tendency among some in Congress to blame the poor for their situation. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., referred to programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly food stamps), as " a hammock that lulls able-bodied adults to a life of dependence and complacency."
How, then, does it happen that 80 percent of the Connecticut households receiving SNAP benefits have one or more family members working? And how do benefits amounting to about $1.50 per meal per person per day make a person complacent? Perhaps more members of Congress should join our Sen. Christopher Murphy and Rep. Joe Courtney, both Democrats, in taking the SNAP Challenge — living for a week on $4.50 per day.
Of course, as The Wall Street Journal observed recently, SNAP benefits were never intended to be a person's sole source of food — as the name says, they are nutritional assistance, a helping hand. But that helping hand can make a huge difference in a child's life, both nutritionally and emotionally. Studies have shown that hunger causes children to become less able to absorb lessons in school, to be more prone to illness and to become anemic.
And yet the House passed a nutrition bill in October that cuts funding for this critical portion of the safety net by $40 billion over the next 10 years. According to the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan agency of the legislature, this bill would cut benefits to 3.8 million people and would take free meals at school away from 210,000 children.
In addition, the ability of the states to adjust eligibility to reflect local costs of living is eliminated. A stringent work requirement for all who are able to work, with no consideration of whether or not work is available, is added. And states are given incentives to cut recipients from the rolls and then keep half of any money "saved" and use it for any purpose whatever, including cutting taxes. Hartford Democratic Rep. John Larson called it "a damaging bill that threatens to starve our children, seniors and veterans."
This egregious bill is now in conference to reconcile differences with the Senate farm bill, which does cut $4 billion over 10 years but does not contain the draconian changes included in the House version. Lawmakers, weary from the debt ceiling fight and the government shutdown, appear close to settling on a compromise of a $10 billion cut. Benefit reductions, which occurred Nov. 1, combined with the reduction of Heat and Eat in the Senate bill (which links utility subsidy eligibility to SNAP benefits) mean that any further cuts will hit Connecticut, and Hartford County, especially hard. Senate negotiators should hold the line at the Senate's $4 billion cut.
For 50 years, Congress has had a bipartisan agreement that deficits would not be reduced by cutting food benefits and programs that help children, the elderly, the disabled and those in poverty. That agreement is being swept aside. Jeff Bridges, founder of the End Hunger Network, said, "if another country did this to our children, we would go to war." For one of the richest nations in the world to be able to feed all its children but refuse to do so is unconscionable. They are all our children, and surely we owe them that much.
Bill Baker of Stamford is a member of RESULTS, a nonprofit, grass-roots advocacy group that supports specific anti-poverty legislation.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun