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“Please Do Not Feed The Animals”: State GOP Equates Food-Stamp Recipients, Wild Animals

On the right, it’s not unusual for conservatives to take great offense to accusations that they don’t like people in poverty. It’s not personal, Republicans argue; their opposition to social-insurance programs is about conservative economic theory and the scope of government. There’s no animosity or ill will.

But once in a while, evidence to the contrary rips off the mask. The NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City reported today:

The Oklahoma Republican Party is under fire after a controversial Facebook post.

In the post, the Oklahoma GOP compared providing food stamp benefits for Americans in need to feeding animals at national parks…. The post has received more than 1,400 comments and 1,600 shares.

The state Republican Party’s message is every bit as offensive as one might think. It began by saying the federal “food stamp program … is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever.”

It added, “Meanwhile, the National Park Service … asks us “Please Do Not Feed the Animals.” Their stated reason for the policy is because “The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will learn to take care of themselves.”

The Oklahoma GOP concludes, “Thus ends today’s lesson in irony.”

Let’s unwrap the argument, because it’s offensive on more levels than one.

First, the Oklahoma Republican Party believes food-stamp distribution has reached an all-time high. That’s factually incorrect. In fact, GOP lawmakers have already successfully cut food aid to the poor.

Second, comparing poverty-stricken families to wild animals suggests that for some Republicans, hostility towards the poor is personal. It is about animosity and ill will. Forget the high-minded explanations about economic theory – equating the poor and wild animals is evidence of contempt.

And third, that’s not what “irony” means.

ThinkProgress noted that the state GOP took down the post, posting a classic non-apology apology in which the Oklahoma Republican Party said it was sorry “to those who were offended” and “for any misconceptions that were created.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) published a Facebook message of her own, adding that she accepts the state party’s explanation “that he was not intentionally disparaging any group of people.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 14, 2015

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Food Stamps, Oklahoma Republican Party, Poor and Low Income | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Robbing-Peter-To-Pay-Paul”: Congress Unites To Screw The Hungry

Five years into our so-called recovery, hunger in America remains stuck at a depressingly high level. The number of families who struggle to put food on the table has barely inched downward, even though employment is up. And while a majority of those struggling families are already receiving food stamps, one of the biggest ways we assist families in need, it’s just not enough, making hunger in America a very real and serious concern.

You would think a generous, wealthy country like the United States would have no problem bolstering an initiative designed to help the working poor in such dire times. Surely, you might think, there is bipartisan support for one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country. But in fact there has been bipartisan support for decreasing both the amount of food stamp money families receive and the number of families who receive them.

In any given month, roughly 46 to 47 million people receive food stamps. It’s highly likely that even more families are eligible to receive them, but don’t seek the help because they don’t believe they qualify, are reluctant to go through the hassle of applying, or are subtly or overtly discouraged from doing so by the caseworker they meet.

Food stamps help reduce hunger, but they don’t eliminate it. Estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture last week show that 17.5 million families struggle to put food on the table, and 62 percent of them were already receiving food stamps. About 6.8 million of those families have so little money for food they skip meals or eat less than they should. Those numbers are about the same they were in the previous year.

The costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are officially known, went up to about $78 billion a year during the recession, mostly because more people were using them. The increase in use tracks pretty well with the rise in unemployment and poverty during the downturn. More people lost jobs or income, and so more people needed help feeding their children.

In response to the rising need, Congress bumped up the amount of money families got on their benefit cards when they passed the stimulus act in 2009. The reasons were multifold: more money would help struggling families buy more food, but it also meant they spent more at their grocery stores, keeping their local economies pumping. Each dollar spent by the government in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.

Then, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to gut the program. As David Dayen reported in The American Prospect, the Democrats were the first to raid this piggy bank when they decided to use food-stamp funds to help pay for a state aid bill in 2010. The stimulus food-stamp boost was supposed to last until about 2016, but the changes the Democrats made meant the extra funding would end earlier, in 2014.

The food stamp program then lost $2.2 billion to help pay for a $4.5 billion increase in the school lunch bill in 2010. Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas who was then chair of the Senate agriculture committee, designed this Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul move. It drew opposition from anti-hunger groups but the bill passed anyway, partly because it was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s newly launched Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.

After Democrats laid that foundation, the Republicans came in and began attacking the program. First, they let the stimulus boost expire, which that meant an average family of three receiving benefits lost $29 per month. The cuts went into effect November 2013, right before the holidays.

Next, the House Republicans in charge attacked the base funding itself. Food stamps are the biggest and most expensive component of the farm bill—an arcane piece of legislation that sets farm policy. Because of the 70 percent increase in food stamp spending since the last farm bill had passed, in 2008, House Republicans refused to pass this one when it first went up for a vote last year. It was the first time in history a farm bill failed, and it later passed without the food-stamp component. After the House finally did address nutrition spending and work with the Senate, the program emerged in February with $8.6 billion cut over the next 10 years, so it’s no wonder families are still going hungry.

To be fair, Democrats fought these final cuts to the program: House Republicans originally wanted to cut $40 billion and the Democrats brought that number down. Indeed, a few Democrats—like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the Senate—want to rescind cuts and provide even more food stamp funding. But even if they succeed, that money might be too tempting for their fellow party members to pass up the next time they want to spend cash on something else.

 

By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Authored By Reagan”: It’s Worse Than Paul Ryan, The Right Has A New Ugly, Racial Dog Whistle

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

Ostensibly worried that too many people prefer welfare to work, House Republicans this January stripped $8.6 billion from the food stamp program. This threatened to reduce monthly food assistance by an average of $90 per family — from households that are barely hanging on, with average gross monthly incomes of just $744. Yet far from conceding defeat, states are joining battle by adjusting their programs in ways that evade the cuts, bringing the food stamp debate back.

Just last week, House Speaker John Boehner warned that “states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” and he implored his colleagues “to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Cheating and fraud constitute stock themes in the conservative assault on food stamps — tropes applied indiscriminately to both recipients and government. And therein lies a clue to the real target.

To see the actual agenda clearly, though, it helps to reach back to Ronald Reagan, for he perfected today’s conservative assault on food stamps.

Reagan frequently stumped by sympathizing with the anger of voters waiting in line to buy hamburger, while some young fellow ahead of them used food stamps to buy a T-bone steak. With this tale, Reagan invoked the stereotype of the welfare recipient who abuses government benefits to live in luxury (Reagan’s other version: welfare queens).

The comedian Jon Stewart recently compiled a montage of contemporary conservative talking heads spinning just these sorts of yarns about food stamps. It would have been funnier if people weren’t actually being pushed into hunger.

Going to the racial dimensions of these hackneyed fictions, when Reagan initially told the T-bone steak story, he identified the food stamp abuser as a young “buck,” a term then commonly used among Southern whites to refer to a strong black man. This veered dangerously toward open racism, and in any event proved unnecessary. Even after Reagan dropped that term from future renditions, the racial element continued just below the surface, with welfare recipients implicitly colored black.

But this was not a simple plot to demonize minorities. Rather, Reagan had another scapegoat in mind, and here we come to the heart of dog-whistle politics. Ostensibly, even more than grasping minorities, the greatest enemy of the middle class was liberal government. After all, it was government that was reaching into taxpayer’s pockets and wasting their hard-earned dollars.

By “darkening” government itself, Reagan provided the kindling for a taxpayer revolt that ostensibly would cut off funds to the lazy and irresponsible — but that in fact generated enormous windfalls for the very rich. In the 1980s, by one estimate, the top 1 percent of Americans reaped tax cuts worth a trillion dollars, and they’ve received a further trillion dollars from the Reagan tax cuts in each ensuing decade.

Tax cuts for the very rich were just the beginning. By trashing safety-net programs as massive giveaways to undeserving minorities and thereby engendering a general hostility toward government, the right has systematically attacked New Deal programs across multiple domains — from education and housing to marketplace and workplace regulation — undoing in area after area the policies that once promoted an equitable distribution of wealth.

Perhaps to understand the full devastation wrought by modern racial politics, we should bring forward another figure from the shadowed background of the T-bone steak story: the cashier. In the 1970s, she was more likely to be unionized and relatively well-paid, with good benefits. Today, whether white or black or some other race, she is likely working without union protection for a minimum wage whose value has sharply fallen and that cannot sustain a small family above poverty. Indeed, like many Wal-Mart employees, it’s the cashier who today is on food stamps.

When House Republicans war against food assistance, just as when Ryan tilts at government poverty programs that don’t work because of a tailspin of culture in our inner cities, their real target is progressive government. Yes, race-baiting superficially aims at minorities and hits nonwhite communities hard, including the 24 percent of food stamp recipients who are black. But just as cuts to food aid also afflict the 38 percent of program participants who are white, dog-whistle politics savages Americans of every race.

And it devastates every class, too, for this sort of racial politics doesn’t just slam the poor, it imperils all who are better off when government protects the broad middle rather than serves society’s sultans. When conservatives blow that dog whistle, government is the target, and you’re a likely victim.

 

By: Ian Haney-Lopez, Salon, March 22, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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