Thank You For Your Service, But Sorry We’re Cutting Your Food Stamps

This Article was originally published on Medium.

More than 1.5 million vets are currently receiving monthly food assistance for themselves and their families through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps. Most of the time, we think of vets as the young men and women who have served recently in Iraq or Afghanistan and don’t consider older vets. But as many as 300,000 of the 12 million U.S. veterans over 60 experience food insecurity. So when the president decreed and House members voted to discuss cutting SNAP provisions for more than two million individuals, did they realize that many of those two million people are vets? AND, did the congress members who voted for the cuts and who frequently roar against federal regulations and bureaucracy realize that they were creating a greatly expanded federal bureaucracy to keep track of the new laws, reporting requirements and restrictions? Were they OK with the contradictions because they are tired of giving money to poor people who they consider unworthy instead of to their one percent super rich benefactors who will receive billions in only one year according to their new tax law? For them, the slashing of SNAP is only the first step in draconian cuts to federal programs. Next on the chopping block is Medicaid, then Medicare and then Social Security.

If the House Farm Bill stands as it is now, $20 BILLION will be cut from SNAP over the next ten years. However, the Senate’s version of the bill is better than that of the House, as it “would be cost neutral over the ten-year budget window” — but still not good enough. What happens to the older vet or partially-disabled person who used to be able to receive SNAP but now may not be eligible because the new law increases the age of eligibility as a senior to 62 and soon 63? A large number of vets who receive SNAP are seniors. How will they be served? Just like that hundreds of thousands of people are in danger of being dropped from the rolls. Can they appeal? Yes, but good luck to you if you are one of the millions people who will have to report each month to prove your eligibility and deal with this new bloated and undoubtedly inefficient bureaucracy.

Many of us in the anti-hunger movement have worked for years to cut back the endless red tape in the SNAP program that was supposedly aimed at preventing fraud but what it actually prevented was eligible people from access nutritious food. Much of the endless paperwork and unnecessary meetings were eliminated, but now they will return — worse than ever. These same congress members and the president seem to think it is OK to pile on the bureaucratic maze for poor people while slashing hundreds of regulations that protect our environment and our health. Although the USDA did not release recent SNAP error records, the error rate during 2013 was less than 5 percent. Imagine how many billions of dollars could be saved if the Pentagon had only a 5 percent cost overrun or failed product rate?

Imagine the USDA not only expanding this nightmare reporting system but also being responsible for purchasing billions of dollars’ worth of food for monthly food boxes, delightfully called “America’s Harvest Box”. This box would partially replace the SNAP EBT card and then deliver all that food to recipients through whatever circuitous means they create, instead of recipients shopping at more than 260,000 local food stores where they can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meat, none of which will be found in the food boxes. This system would not stimulate local economies or allow individuals to exercise choice. “Big Brother Government” will tell the poor vet or mom or senior what to eat and who knows what condition the food will be in. Imagine how embarrassed people will be to have boxes on their doorsteps mark them as experiencing food insecurity. It is just another burden and stigma for being poor. But then, that may be part of the plan. Make it as hard and as demeaning for poor people as possible no matter who they are, no matter how hard they work, no matter how well they have served our country, but thank you for your service.

AND, remember this is a Farm Bill, so it affects millions of people who are farm families. The federal subsidy structure in this legislation is loaded to support the biggest corporate farms and even now allows billionaire “farmers” to participate. There may be crumbs for the small and medium sized farmer but the House version will cut conservation programs by $5 million. Once again, the rich are rewarded and everyone else is pushed aside. And what about the millions of rural folks who currently receive SNAP, many of whom are eligible because of state waivers which this bill would eliminate?

Please tell your senators and congress members to stop this mean-spirited attack on poor people in our country whether they are our vets — young or old — or our single moms, or kids, or seniors, or hard-working people who simply do not make enough money in our low wage economy.

Bill Ayres

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