Though many in the education community are celebrating last week's Senate vote for the so-called Edujobs bill, I can't find any joy in it. In fact, I am shaken and ashamed because, to pay for it, the Senate snatched $11.9 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
That's right: They cut food stamps. For the first time ever, this move would gouge the monthly benefits that low-income families receive. Beginning in 2014, America's poorest families will--if the House concurs during a special session this week--see $59 disappear from their food stamp benefits every single month.
The families and individuals who depend on food stamps are our nation's most vulnerable. They tend to be the young, the old, the black, and the brown. They now total more than 40 million Americans. And despite cold, inside-the-Beltway rationalizations that food prices have not risen as steeply as had been anticipated--and that this cut will "just" return benefits to pre-2009 levels--I challenge any who support it to feed their own children on $4.50 a day. That's the average per-person benefit now, before the Senate cut takes effect.
It is no wonder, then, that experts predict the passage of this bill will put more families back in lines at soup kitchens and food banks. That's why so many social justice and faith-based groups are expressing strong opposition to the proposed cuts.
Politicians know that there are less ruthless ways to pay for this than by slashing food stamps. Oil and gas and other corporate subsidies, for example, could withstand the blow far better than the poorest people in this nation. But families who rely on public support don't wield much political influence. After all, when you don't have enough money to buy your children dinner, it's hard to find room in your budget for a lobbyist or a fat campaign contribution.
Most shockingly of all, the education community--particularly those who assert that it's all but impossible to teach impoverished children who come to school hungry or overwhelmed by family stress--is cheering the passage of this bill with its hateful trade-off. We'd all do well to remember this proposal and those who supported it the next time teacher union bosses assert that they are fighting for what's best for our nation's poor kids.