NYTimes: Cuts in Food Stamps Force Hard Choices on the Poor

Article: Cuts in Food Stamps Force Hard Choices on the Poor 

I am an accepting person. I will listen to your political opinion even if it’s vastly different from mine, and try to reconcile what you’re saying with why you might believe it. But this I don’t understand. Cuts in the SNAP (food stamps) program are forcing millions of Americans to go to bed with empty bellies and empty pockets to pay for food. In a first world country, empty bellies.

Our policy makers, our fiscally conservative policy makers, have a particular way of de-humanizing the poor–painting an image of a greedy, money-grubbing, lazy faceless mass that want nothing more than the take advantage of the system. This idea was popularized by then candidate Ronald Regean’s speech in Chicago’s South Side, with the creation of the “welfare queen.” He claimed:

“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

Unfortunately this was only mildly reflective of reality. With a little digging, you can find the woman to whom he was referring in his infamous speech, Linda Taylor. She was certainly charged with fraud–for a total of $8,000.

But who doesn’t like keeping the money they earn? No one. So this idea of our hard-earned tax dollars going to lazy, jobless welfare queens with Cadillacs persisted throughout the decades and has fueled many a fiscally conservative fire. We keep voting fiscally conservative Republicans into office under their magic line of, if you work hard, you’ll go far in life and won’t need government handouts! Therefore implying the obvious–if you take welfare, you’re not working hard enough.

But it really all begins with a bit of luck doesn’t it? I was lucky to be born into a family that valued my education, I was lucky to have a good education, I was lucky to have a family that had the means to provide me what I needed, and I was lucky that I grew up with a family that taught me what “bad decisions” were, how to not make them, and had the means to help me if I did make them. I was lucky, I have privilege.

I am not saying I didn’t work hard, I did. But at least I had the tools to work hard and run far. Millions of Americans are born without shoes or tools, and we ask them to hit the ground running and try not to step on any broken glass.

What I am saying is that next time you hear a proposal to cut SNAP (food stamps), or to make it harder for people to receive food stamps (i.e. “volunteer” their time or take drug tests)…think about the person saying those things. Have they ever experienced being so poor that you qualify for welfare? Have they actually seen rampant abuse of the system rather than occasional anecdotal tales? Have they dealt with parents who have to choose between food for themselves or food for their children? Or are they simply pandering to a people who bought into Regean’s welfare queen idea as a way to justify their greed? Think about that next time you have an inkling to vote for a fiscal conservative.

—————

Here are some statistics as of 2013 from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Commerce regarding welfare and food stamps:

  • 12.8 million people receive welfare (another way to look at it 4% of the US population)
  • Total amount of money you make monthly and still receive welfare: $1000
  • Total number of states where welfare pays more than an $8 hour job: 39

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