Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"To Heat or to Eat, that is the question"

I just read a very insane and thought provoking article on usatoday.com about how five states were denied increased funds for foodstamps. The states requested the funds in order to offset higher heating costs (read the entire article here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/Washington/2005-12-13-heating-bills_x.htm).

Basically, many poor people are facing increased heating costs this winter. As a result they will have less money for food and other basic necessities. In order to help out, 5 states asked the federal government for more money so that they could increase the amount of food stamps individuals receive. The federal government said no. That's right - no more soup for you.

Let's try to be fair, and see what the government has to say. Quoting the USA Today article:


Jean Daniel, director of public affairs for the Agriculture Department's Food
and Nutrition Service, said states can seek an increase in food stamps if they
document higher utility bills. That way, she said, the government can "make sure
that each individual is getting the right benefit amount ... not too little, not
too much."

Yes, we certainly don't want the poor to have too much to eat, do we.

Here are some facts about the Food Stamp Program. According to their website, about 25,681,000 people participated in the program in FY 2005. The average benefit per person was $92.70 per month. The entire program cost about $30,961,500,000 in FY 2005 (about $28,567,700,000 of that was in
benefits paid.)

To participate in the program you must:
(this is from their website, which is where you can also find more information yourself http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/):

  • No more than $2000 in countable resources per household (like a bank account, not including your house)
  • The gross monthly income of most households must be 130 percent or less of the Federal poverty guidelines ($1,698 per month for a family of three in most places, effective Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005).
  • Net monthly income must be 100 percent or less of Federal poverty guidelines ($1,306 per month for a household of three in most places, effective Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005). Net income is figured by adding all of a household's gross income, and then taking a number of approved deductions for child care, some shelter costs and other expenses.
  • If you are "able-bodies" then you must meet work requirements.

USA Today presents two views on the issue (quoting again):

James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, said the decision "will force people to choose between heat, medicine and food. ... We know that people will eat less. ... It will have particularly damaging effects on kids, especially poor kids." But Daniel said actual figures, not projections, are required. "We also have a responsibility to the taxpayers," she said.

Ms. Daniel is right, she does have a responsibility to taxpayers. But, you know what, I am okay with feeding people. In fact I will pay more in taxes if it means that children will have enough to eat. The food stamp program was only about 1.7% of total federal expenditures in 2004. I am okay with that figure. If the U.S. is a great democracy, shouldn't it spend just a little more making sure that all of its citizens have shelter, warmth and food?

I have heard the argument that there is too much fraud involved in the food stamp program and that the poor are overweight. As far as the fraud accusation goes, it is true there is fraud. But fraud also exists in almost every other government program (we could talk about for instance , issuing contract work in Iraq). As for the argument that the poor are overweight and therefore it is okay to deny them benefits . . . well that is so insane that I cannot think of anything to say.

Call me a "liberal" if you want (and I know some in my family will) but I think that living in a democracy should not involve asking yourself whether or not you will pay your heating bill or if you will eat.

PS: You know who else was a liberal? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and most of the founding fathers. If I am a "liberal," then I think I am in good company.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Do you have access to this season's West Wing? Jimmy Smits in the live debate episode pontificated about how the term "liberal" has been corrupted and redefined by the religious right. It was THE thing I have been waiting all my life to hear a politician say. Too bad it had to be a fictionalized one. If you didn't see it I'll have to sned you the text. good stuff!