THE BLOG

Small (Minded) Government Hurts Women

09/30/2013 05:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 30, 2013

The GOP's War on Women is, and has always been, an economic issue.

The past few weeks have been no exception. Republicans passed a ruthless $40 billion in spending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which helps put food on the table for the 47 million people in this country who don't have enough to eat. Almost half of them are kids. And two thirds of adults in the program are women.

By spending about four dollars a day per person, SNAP helped lift four million people out of poverty last year alone, and made things a little bit easier for millions more who were fighting to keep their heads above water. It's just smart policy. Everyone, from parents and teachers who know kids do better when they aren't hungry in class, to farmers and truck drivers who bring our groceries to market, understands that all Americans are better off when we can afford to buy food. In fact, five dollars of SNAP benefits yield nine dollars of economic activity. That is quite a return on investment.

But none of that really seems to matter to the Republican Party, which likes to pretend that the program is widely abused and prevents people from working. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 2011, 98 percent of SNAP benefits were given to families who are genuinely in need.
Forty-one percent of people who receive benefits live in a household where someone is working. And 96 percent of those who worked before getting benefits kept working.

Women are more likely to rely on SNAP because they earn less and are often solely responsible for taking care of their children. But Republicans don't seem interested in promoting real solutions to these problems, like ensuring equal pay for equal work, or supporting access to affordable childcare, which currently costs more per year than tuition at the average public college in most states. Instead they decided to stand on House floor to talk about how countless food aid recipients are avoiding work and buying lobster with their bloated benefits. And then they say that four dollars a day is an extravagance.

That's just unthinkable.

I want to ask them -- when was the last time you were in a grocery store and had to even look at the price of a gallon of milk, let alone figure out if you could afford it? Or had to ignore the produce aisle because fruits and vegetables were too expensive?

The average family getting food aid has to choose between healthy food and food that makes them full. Some mothers are limiting themselves to one meal a day. Others are telling their kids to save what's on their plates and try to stretch it to a second meal. Republicans don't care about the human and economic cost of these cuts. All they see when they think of poor families are people guilty of laziness and fraud.

It's clear that the party of small government has become nothing more than the party of small-minded government. American women know it. And we're building a movement that is going to replace them with progressive women leaders who will fight back against these attacks on women and families. American families deserve a fair shot.

I'm proud that EMILY's List women have been taking a stand in Congress. Representatives Barbara Lee and Gwen Moore were helped by benefits like SNAP and welfare when times were tough for them and their families, and they aren't afraid to say so. Representative Kyrsten Sinema has dealt with everything from food insecurity to homelessness. And she says SNAP helped keep her family afloat, and gave her what she needed to focus on school and pursue opportunities.

Representative Jackie Speier criticized hypocritical members of Congress who travel the world at taxpayer expense while slashing benefits for hungry Americans. "They received almost $200 for a single meal only for themselves," Speier said. "Yet, for them the idea of helping fellow Americans spend less than $5 a day makes their skin crawl. The faces of families of veterans, of farmers, of the disabled, of the working poor are not visible to them, not even when they are their own constituents."

These women leaders did one of the bravest things you can do in a democracy. They put their name on a ballot. And now they're a voice in Congress for people who never had anyone speak up for them before. Over the past few weeks they forced legislators to face the fact that hunger is sometimes a part of the American experience. And Republicans who cut SNAP had to do it while next to colleagues who were poor once, and were able to pull themselves up in part because the government gave them a hand.

This is why having Congress look more like our country matters, and why we need even more progressive women to step up and run. They make the invisible constituent visible again. And that will make every vote in favor of a backward agenda a little bit harder.