Like many Americans, I have always envisioned America as a country of plenty, a country of opportunity. In such a country, there is no reason for anyone to go hungry. And yet, House Republicans are determined to starve families on the brink.
On June 21, the House passed legislation that would require food stamp recipients to meet new and increased work restrictions. The stated intent is to get more low-income individuals into the workforce, and to break what some House Republicans have called the “cycle of poverty” created by welfare. But in reality, stripping SNAP benefits from people already at or below the poverty line will only increase the number of people, including children, who go hungry.
The Senate is expected to vote as early as this week on their own version of the same legislation – the Farm Bill – which is not nearly as punitive and harmful to families as the House bill.
Here in Nevada, a little over 440,000 people received SNAP benefits in 2017, or around 15 percent. More than 65 percent of those people are in families with children, and almost 25 percent are in families with elderly or disabled members, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Between 2009 and 2012, SNAP kept 58,000 people per year out of poverty in our state.
Current Republican dogma holds that these resources, less than $1 billion for Nevada and going towards our most vulnerable citizens, are contributing to unemployment and encouraging recipients to remain dependent on government welfare. But the reality is much more complex. According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 44 percent of SNAP-receiving households had some income, but only 18 percent had income above the poverty line. Despite this, the majority of SNAP households did not receive any other form of government resources. Essentially, SNAP recipients are working and using only what they need to keep themselves and their children from going hungry, while still struggling to make ends meet.
Republicans want us to believe that SNAP and other welfare recipients are lazy and entitled, sucking taxes out of the rest of us deserving citizens. This is a pervasive and ugly lie. The reality is that our economy has failed our low-income families, depriving them of a dignified life even as they work hard every day to provide for themselves, their children, and other dependents. But instead of addressing this, Republicans choose to give tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent and then turn around and rip away what little security and dignity struggling families have.
For a society to function, citizens must have access to basic resources, including food and shelter, so that they can contribute meaningfully to it. In America, one in six children go hungry, and as a result they may experience developmental delays, health problems such as anemia and asthma, and behavioral problems – all of which cost us in long-term healthcare funding as well as lost labor from children who could otherwise grow up to be productive members of society. Adults who go hungry are also more likely to develop health problems that require serious, long-term care, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Republicans claim that imposing new work requirements will break the cycle of poverty, but the truth is that without nutrition, SNAP-receiving families will be driven further into destitution. We are the richest country on Earth, and there is no reason why anyone should go to sleep hungry, especially not while the wealthy receive tax cut after tax cut. If we really want to address the plight of low-income families in this nation, we need to take a hard look at our economy and push our lawmakers to make decisions that will make it work for everyone, not just the companies with the greatest lobbying power.