Critics are slamming a House vote on Thursday in which Republican lawmakers voted to slash $40 billion from food assistance programs over the next decade despite ongoing poverty and hunger nationwide revealed in numerous studies.
“No program does more than SNAP to protect children from the effects of deep poverty, and yet the House just voted to cut 3.8 million people off the program, including many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country,” said Arloc Sherman, senior researcher at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“Has our moral compass fallen so low?” asked House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), following the measure's passage. “We're the richest nation in the world. There is no reason why Americans should go hungry.”
All 217 votes in favor of the bill came from Republicans, with only 15 GOP members joining Democrats who voted against. Pushed by a GOP moving ever-rightward and championed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the cuts spell out a 5.2 percent reduction in the budget for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) that provides food stamps and other vital aid. The bill also seeks to implement more stringent eligibility requirements that would push an estimated 10 percent of currently qualified recipients out of the program.
While the drastic cuts are unlikely to survive the Senate, the continued GOP attack on food assistance and other social programs appears to be shifting the debate within both chambers of Congress and exposing cracks in the Democratic Party. Last June, the Senate passed a bi-partisan Farm Bill that called for SNAP cuts of $12 billion dollars over five years. Though an amount smaller than the current House bill, the Senate version revealed that the Democrats are also willing to cut support for the nation's most vulnerable even as they expand military spending, support lavish tax subsidies to large agriculture interests, and refuse to raise taxes on the nation's wealthiest individuals or corporations.
Meanwhile, a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveals that 17.6 million U.S. households having are difficulty feeding their families, and 7 million of these are suffering from "very low food security" that forced them to go hungry in 2012. A shocking 14.5 percent of all U.S. households—amounting to 49 million people—suffered food insecurity in 2012, with poor households, "households with children headed by single women or single men," and African American and Hispanic households hardest hit.
Hunger is growing in a climate where deep poverty is on the rise. "Significantly, 44 percent of those in poverty live below half the poverty line—in 'deep poverty'—on less than about $9,150 for a family of three," writes Greg Kaufmann for The Nation. "That adds up to 20.4 million people, and includes 15 million women and children—nearly 10 percent of all children in the United States."
As Kaufmann points out, even relatively small income boosts in the form of government aid make a huge difference to the mental and physical well-being of families living in deep poverty.