Food is not a luxury. It's a fundamental resource -- one that too many people in our wealthy country struggle to find each day. A staggering 16 million kids in the U.S. live in homes where the simple act of eating isn't a sure thing. They don't know where their next meal will come from or if there will be a meal at all.
This just shouldn't happen in a nation as advanced as ours. That's why federal food assistance efforts like SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly known as the food stamp program) were put into place. They've ensured that no matter what else happens, Americans are able to meet their most basic human need.
You would think -- at a time when unemployment in our nation's most vulnerable communities is still in the double digits and more than 42.7 million people are living below the poverty line -- that all of our leaders in Congress would be worried about finding ways to protect and expand this basic safety net. But some of them are not. Instead, they're making it a priority to get rid of core programs, like SNAP, for those most at risk -- seniors, struggling children, and even veterans.
These are the same members of Congress who want to pass a budget with deeper cuts to infrastructure and education and oppose the repeal of job-killing sequestration cuts -- actions that hold back economic growth and further weakens the middle class. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to slash $40 billion from SNAP. This drastic cut will yank food from up to 6 million people -- with kids hit hardest. Almost half of food stamp recipients are children, and another 22 percent are adults living with children.
Sadly, this attempt to destroy food benefits isn't new. In June, Republicans offered a farm bill that would have slashed SNAP by more than $20 billion -- but that wasn't enough for the extremists in the House. So instead, they passed the farm bill -- giving more than $200 billion in subsidies for agriculture -- but left food stamps out, to be dealt with later.
"Later" is here. And it's ugly. The dramatic cuts proposed this week in the House are unnecessary. And frankly, they're cruel. They serve little purpose but to squeeze the most vulnerable among us: hungry Americans who are struggling to get by.
These cuts would be bad enough on their own. But when you couple them with the fact that their proponents in Congress are also fiercely guarding loopholes and subsidies that benefit the very wealthy, it's deeply disturbing. They're attempting to steal from the poor so they can give to the rich.
The proposed cuts to food assistance are outrageous. And they raise a fundamental question about what we value. Making sure our neighbors and the children in our communities get enough food to eat, no matter what else happens to them, is a key part of the social contract that binds us together. It's one of our most basic moral obligations.
These cuts represent a new level of extreme. We aren't talking about a reasonable debate about how best to fight hunger in the long run, or how to make these emergency programs more efficient and cost-effective. We're talking about an attack on our kids, our seniors, and our most vulnerable citizens. We're talking about an attack on our common values.
Most of us in this country wouldn't hesitate to offer food to a neighbor in need. It's what decent people do. But right now, the actions of our representatives in Congress don't reflect that. They've strayed so far from what most of us accept as good and right that it's almost incomprehensible. And that needs to change.