Krugman on Starving the Least

From the Mouths of Babes


Like many observers, I usually read reports about political goings-on with a sort of weary cynicism. Every once in a while, however, politicians do something so wrong, substantively and morally, that cynicism just won’t cut it; it’s time to get really angry instead. So it is with the ugly, destructive war against food stamps.

Paul Krugman
The food stamp program — which these days actually uses debit cards, and is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing “food insecurity,” in which families go hungry at least some of the time.

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

These cuts are, however, just the beginning of the assault on food stamps. Remember, Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is still the official G.O.P. position on fiscal policy, and that budget calls for converting food stamps into a block grant program with sharply reduced spending. If this proposal had been in effect when the Great Recession struck, the food stamp program could not have expanded the way it did, which would have meant vastly more hardship, including a lot of outright hunger, for millions of Americans, and for children in particular.

Look, I understand the supposed rationale: We’re becoming a nation of takers, and doing stuff like feeding poor children and giving them adequate health care are just creating a culture of dependency — and that culture of dependency, not runaway bankers, somehow caused our economic crisis.

But I wonder whether even Republicans really believe that story — or at least are confident enough in their diagnosis to justify policies that more or less literally take food from the mouths of hungry children. As I said, there are times when cynicism just doesn’t cut it; this is a time to get really, really angry.


6 responses to “Krugman on Starving the Least

  1. It is getting harder and harder to cope with hearing the Republican’s whining about “takers” when they work 126 days per year at full salary and benefits all the while doing nothing except naming frigging post offices…..which they want to get rid of anyway!!!!

  2. As someone who grew up in a household on food stamps (and was taken off of it because my mother made an extra paycheck one month) I know the value of this program. I did not grow up expecting other people to pay for my life, I work hard, and try to pay my bills. This is increasingly difficult when you consider that my pay rate doesn’t change year to year. I also once was upwardly mobile, going from a dishwashing job to management in one restaurant chain. Now , however, I seem to be stuck in my current position, where even a college degree won’t help. Meanwhile food prices continue to rise, despite the fact that we produce now than we did when I was a child, cheaper and from fewer acres. Which is why we need the SNAP program, which is less fraudulent than it was back in the day of coupon books.Maybe if the “maker” would just pay taxes, instead of using every loophole they can NOT to ( I filed 1040EZ for many years, taking only the basic deductions, so yes, I paid a lot in taxes) then maybe we would have the money to fund these programs and hire people to oversee them and catch the fraudulent claims

  3. There is no answer until the American people pay attention to more than Fox news or believe Congress is bad except for their guy. We are a nation of lazy people…to lazy to seek the truth.

  4. And how about the working poor — the minimum wage workers who rely on food stamps for survival. If not for food stamps their only alternative would be welfare.
    If we stopped subsidizing these low paying employers with the food stamp program, they would have to pay more to get anyone to work for them.
    The obvious solution–raise the minimum wage above the poverty line so working families won ‘t need them. Stop subsidizing low paying businesses!

  5. Sharon Schmidt

    I agree. Most of these “lazy people” have two jobs and not health insurance. It is pathetic how we feel it is okay to spit on someone before we have walked the mile ourselves..

  6. Pingback: Tennessee’s Stephen Fincher received $3.5 million in farm subsidies yet seeks to cut Food Stamps..taking food from the mouths of babies « GoodOleWoody's Blog and Website

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