Wednesday, October 22, 2014

HEINTZ: Tea Party-backed policy would hurt poor Kansans

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 11/6/2013

With the economy still recovering at a sluggish pace, it’s difficult to understand why the U.S. House of Representatives is so intent on taking a meat cleaver to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which many know as food stamps and which keeps millions of people from falling below the poverty line.

The Republican-dominated House approved a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would remove nearly 4 million people from the food stamp program. The House split the agricultural and nutrition pieces of the five-year farm bill into two parts and proposed making $40 billion in cuts over a decade to the nutrition part of the bill.

With the economy still recovering at a sluggish pace, it’s difficult to understand why the U.S. House of Representatives is so intent on taking a meat cleaver to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which many know as food stamps and which keeps millions of people from falling below the poverty line.

The Republican-dominated House approved a bill that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would remove nearly 4 million people from the food stamp program. The House split the agricultural and nutrition pieces of the five-year farm bill into two parts and proposed making $40 billion in cuts over a decade to the nutrition part of the bill.

The folks who would be negatively affected if this legislation were to become law include children and working-class families. A U.S. Census Bureau report found that the food stamp program has kept about 4 million people above the poverty level and has kept millions more from becoming even more impoverished. Aside from the immoral implications of making extreme cuts to an anti-hunger program that has greatly benefited working families, children, the elderly and the disabled, these cuts also make no sense economically. Decreasing the purchasing power of millions of Americans is bound to have a negative effect on a tepid economic recovery. A 2008 Moody’s Analytics study shows that every $1 spent to help reduce hunger has resulted in $1.70 in economic activity.

This shows the impetus behind the Republican-dominated House’s determination to dramatically cut food stamps is ideological, not economical. It’s based on a false belief that this program allows herds of lazy Americans to mooch off the government.

“Politically, it’s a great issue,” U.S. Rep Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who represents Kansas’ Big First District and was among those pushing for larger cuts, said. “I think most Americans don’t think you should be getting something for free, especially for the able-bodied adults.”

While conservatives are correct to want to stop freeloaders from living off the government dole, they greatly overestimate the number of people who make up this notorious group. And, in their overzealous pursuit to purge the lazy and non-ambitious from government payrolls, they wind up offering legislation that would hurt some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

“The latest proposal from the House is an about-face on our progress fighting hunger,” wrote former U.S. Sens. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in a bipartisan opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times. “It would eliminate food assistance for 4 million to 6 million Americans.”

Furthermore, the Tea Party conservative’s claim that the food stamp program is rife with fraud and freeloaders doesn’t align with facts — agricultural department data shows the program has lower rates of fraud than farm subsidies like crop insurance.

“SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, and despite the recent growth in caseloads, the share of total SNAP payments that represent overpayments, underpayments, or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2011,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Tea Party’s fact-free beliefs illuminate what happens when a group chooses to listen to think tanks, cable news networks and talk radio hosts that confirm their basic worldview instead of objectively assessing the facts on the ground and taking care of the vulnerable people they were elected to represent.

“In a country struggling to emerge from the worst recession since the Depression, this is no time play politics with hunger,” Dole and Daschle wrote.

Tea Party-backed Republicans should heed the former senators’ sage advice.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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