This week House Republicans voted again to take food from the mouths of our most vulnerable citizens. After failing to get support for a $20 billion cut in food stamps during farm bill negotiations earlier this year, on Thursday Republicans passed an even larger reduction of $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
These cuts show Republicans fundamentally misunderstand what poverty looks like in America. They aren't even aware of the living conditions for their own constituents, where reports show Republican Congressional Districts saw bigger increases in suburban poverty in recent years. They don't see that for some our economy has rebounded but for far too many the struggle to put food on the table continues.
Americans who need food stamps are not the welfare queens Republicans so famously tout as the epitome for reform. Food stamp recipients are our children, our seniors and our disabled. They are Americans looking for work and living at or below the poverty line on less than $800 per month.
Even with food stamp assistance, these Americans must still rely on food banks and faith based charities for additional help because their benefits usually run out before the end of each month. They are trying to make due on $1.50 per meal.
They don't need a lecture on personal responsibility or empty rhetoric about how taking food from their mouths is necessary to balance the federal budget. They need jobs and to know that compassionate Americans will help them get back on their feet because we all have fallen on hard times.
But if House Republicans have their way an estimated 4 million Americans will be told you are on your own.
That's just not fair and we shouldn't stand for it. As a Mayor I know the challenge of balancing a budget during tough economic times while making sure the most vulnerable citizens don't carry the brunt of the load. In local government we have to come together and get results. I wish Republicans in Washington behaved the same way because when they don't state and local governments have to pick up the slack.
In Baltimore, we've had success in providing food stamp recipients with greater access to healthier foods. Farmers markets offer fresh fruits and vegetables to food stamp recipients.
Our Virtual Supermarket Program lets residents order groceries at their local library branch, senior home, public housing, or from any computer. Residents can pick up their order weekly at their community site for no delivery cost and are welcome to pay with food stamps.
Where there is fraud in the system we should do everything we can to root it out. But similar to GOP voter suppression efforts, their arguments around food stamp fraud are all bark with no bite.
It's a solution in search of a problem. Despite the growth in the program in recent years from $36 billion in 2008 to $78 billion last year, fraud represented barely 1 percent of all transactions in the SNAP program. Republicans are proposing we let 4 million Americans go hungry for the mistakes of the 1 percent of participants who took advantage of the system. This is taking the party of the 1 percent to a whole new low.
This hardly seems fair nor is it a sound policy for slowing the growth of the SNAP program.
A better remedy would be to work with the President and pass a jobs bill like the White House has proposed. If you want fewer people on food stamps then help them get jobs. Come up with a real plan for economic growth that isn't just another warmed up version of the same policies that drove the economy into the ditch in the first place.
If Republicans are serious about fraud then I suggest they work with state and local governments to target crooked retailers who game the system. In Baltimore this week, a federal grand jury indicted 10 business owners on charges of stealing nearly $7 million from the food stamp program. More cooperation to crack down on massive incidences of fraud would go a long way toward punishing those who should pay a price while protecting the largely innocent Americans who rely on these programs to make ends meet.
Political posturing only makes the job of local leaders more difficult, because when Americans lose access to vital programs like SNAP they are forced to add an additional strain on already limited city resources.
The American people deserve better
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is the 49th Mayor of Baltimore and currently serves as Secretary for the Democratic National Committee and Second Vice President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors
Follow Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MayorSRB