“Self-sufficiency” is tough when you’re hungry
In the Sept. 1 edition of the newspaper, we ran a story by Brad Hundt, the editor of this page, on his efforts to live for five days on the grocery budget of someone who is receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which has more commonly been known throughout its existence by the shorthand of “food stamps,” though the stamps have long since been replaced by a debit-style card.
Hundt learned soon enough that it wasn’t easy trying to stretch $25 or so for five days. It involved making choices between one staple or another, being exceedingly careful about portion sizes to make the comestibles last, and precious little variety. It was heavy on the carbohydrates and light on the produce – there was no room in the budget for much of anything from the produce aisle or the farmers market.
The realization that SNAP hardly yields a bounty for its recipients makes the vote last week by Republicans in the House of Representatives to hack $40 billion from food stamps all the more dismaying, particularly at this juncture, when so many Americans are still trying to recover their footing in the wake of the Great Recession.
Of course, the cuts have virtually no chance of being approved in the Democratic-controlled Senate or by President Obama. Either GOP lawmakers in the House are hoping that some smaller cut can be worked out in the legislative sausage mill or they merely want to mete out punishment to the poor for, well, being poor.
Some have argued that SNAP is meant to supplement a regular food budget, and while that may be true in some cases, you can bet that for many families, it makes up the sum total of that budget, with the rest of their paychecks going to rent, transportation or other daily essentials. Even with SNAP, many of those who benefit from it still have to turn to food pantries and charities to get the necessary sustenance.
Advocates for cuts to food stamps, such as former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, have stated that nudging people out of the SNAP program would harvest a sense of “self-sufficiency” and “worthiness.” But “worthiness” can be awfully tough to muster when your stomach is rumbling.