The Trump administration’s proposal to cut about 3.1 million people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, literally and figuratively is a punch in the gut to southern Illinois.
The proposed rule change by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would increase restrictions on who could automatically qualify for the food benefits. Currently, states allow some people who get benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to automatically qualify. The USDA said the new rule would close “a loophole,” according to reporting by The Associated Press.
With the federal deficit expected to top $900 billion in 2019, the projected $2 billion in savings realized by paring down the SNAP program looks both callous and insignificant, particularly in light of the tax cuts pushed by the Trump administration in 2017.
The Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that $230 billion of the projected $900 billion 2019 deficit was the result of the tax cut. Think about that: $230 billion in tax cuts would cover the SNAP savings 115 times.
That calls to mind the words of former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, who said, “the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
And, Humphrey’s words cut to the heart of the matter. The people hurt by cutting back SNAP benefits are the elderly, the sick, the handicapped and the children. While President Donald Trump has argued that SNAP no longer is necessary given the strong economy and low unemployment, we here in southern Illinois know the reality.
The soaring stock market and tightening job market mean nothing if you are a single parent working a couple of part-time jobs trying to make ends meet. The improved economy is irrelevant to a person who is unable to work because of physical or mental impairment.
In a story published in The Carbondale Southern Illinoisan on Sunday, we learned that 12,000 people in Jackson County alone receive SNAP benefits. We know that 40% of Alexander County residents and 30% of Pulaski County residents are food stamp recipients. Between 20% to 25% of Jackson, Williamson, Union, Gallatin, Saline, Franklin and Hardin counties receive SNAP benefits. Those are your friends and neighbors. Look around you in church Sunday. You’ll see people who rely on this program to feed their children.
Look at the kids your children play with at school. They are the ones who will suffer if this proposal is allowed to take effect. Recently, the Wyoming Valley School District in Pennsylvania has been in the news after it sent letters to parents informing them that if their kids’ lunch debt was not settled, their child could be removed from their home and placed in foster care.
At least that’s not likely to happen in southern Illinois. So many people in southern Illinois rely on SNAP benefits that many schools in the lower 17 counties provide free lunches to all students. Churches in the region provide weekend food packages for students who rely on school lunches as their primary source of nutrition. In the long run, it will be the children that will feel the stinging effects of this proposal.
As Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Nutrition told the Reuters News Agency, “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”
And, as the story Sunday outlined, SNAP benefits are not only for the unemployed. In addition, city residents are not the primary beneficiaries of the program. Studies indicate that rural citizens rely more heavily on SNAP benefits than city-dwellers.
Curtailing SNAP benefits is a horrific idea for southern Illinois, for children and the rural poor. The savings to taxpayers is minimal, and the cost, in terms of human hardship and suffering, is high.
It is an idea that needs to go away – quickly.
The Carbondale Southern Illinoisan