The release of the Labor Department's June jobs report last week showing the addition of only 80,000 jobs was met with the usual speculation of potential political impact, especially on the 2012 presidential campaign. There was, however, almost no discussion of the human impact. Sadly there been even less effort to seek a breakthrough in our nation's efforts to deal with the tragedy of millions unemployed -- no new ideas put forth, no convening of business or government leaders, just more sandbox squabbling. If job creation is truly the nation's number one priority, it makes you wonder what chance other issues have. A stalled economic recovery means millions of our citizens, and in many cases our neighbors, will be subsisting near the poverty line. Any one of a number of bad breaks -- an accident, an illness, a divorce, a lay-off -- can leave a family confronting hunger and the risk that their children won't have enough to eat. We've heard this firsthand from Americans in every part of our country:
- I finally swallowed my pride and applied for food stamps. It is almost impossible to work all day and do a good job when you're starving and have no energy. It helped me keep working so that I was eventually able to get a job that paid me enough to get off of food stamps permanently. - Eileen, Ohio.
Troubling as it is that there is no credible job creation plan that has the enthusiastic backing of either party, let alone both, there should at least to be ideas on how to help those struggling to survive without a paycheck. For example, thoughtfully extending essential food and nutrition benefits doesn't require economic genius, only compassion, courage and political will.
Instead, this week the House Ag Committee will take up a measure to dramatically cut the one of the most reliable and important parts of the social safety net: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps) benefits, which guarantee that at least the kids of unemployed parents won't go hungry while Congress tries to figure out what to do.
The $16.5 billion in SNAP cuts proposed by the Lucas-Peterson bill threaten the wellbeing of millions of kids struggling with hunger and poverty in this nation. SNAP is a lifeline for families fighting to make ends meet. It is the first line of defense in the battle against childhood hunger. According to analysis, this bill would eliminate SNAP benefits for up to 3 million people, a large number of whom are families with children.
Not only would these cuts make it tougher for struggling families to put food on the table, this bill also threatens threaten the ability for many children to get free, nutritious meals at school. In many families, eligibility for free school meals is tied to eligibility for SNAP. According to analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would lead to 280,000 kids losing access to school meals, which for many is their primary source of nutrition.
Nearly half of SNAP participants are under the age of 18. Physicians have rightly described SNAP as one of our most effective vaccines. Without the food and nutrition they need to grow and thrive, vulnerable children face increased health, education, and employment challenges. Simply put, we cannot have a stronger America with weaker kids.
Cutting food stamp cuts in the wake of new evidence that the economic recovery has stalled would be like deciding we can't afford water to fight the fires ravaging Colorado and the western United States this past month. It combines an element of callousness with flat-out ignorance of what it takes to ensure that innocent victims can survive.
If both parties continue business as usual, neither will deserve to be in power. Even worse, whichever party does prevail will lack a mandate to do anything significant to break the cycle of political paralysis and human suffering. Ending poverty and reversing unemployment may be complex, but feeding a child is not. If policymakers start to listen to the voices of Americans like those quoted above, they might move more quickly to ensure that no child is hungry.
(Here is an infographic showing exactly how SNAP affects our youngest generation.)