There is a new movement of 4,000 people fasting in order to protest Congressional budget cuts. Mark Bittman, who is ironically a foodie, wrote about the protest in the New York Times. In the article, Bittman explains that the fasting protest is in response to House budget bill H.R. 1, which proposes cuts in WIC, a program that “supports women, infants, and children, [and] international food and health aid (18 million people would be immediately cut off from a much-needed food stream, and 4 million would lose access to malaria medicine.)” Farmers in underdeveloped countries would also be profoundly affected by the cuts.
Domestically, food stamps are also being attacked in the form of the “Welfare Reform 2011” bill, language familiar to anyone who lived through former President Clinton’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which promised to “end welfare as we know it.” Of course, that didn’t mean alleviating poverty but rather abandoning people in their hours of need. As Bittman points out, these food stamp cuts won’t make a dent in the overall deficit, and could quite literally result in people starving to death.
Other prominent participants include the progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis and David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. This week, Wallis, Beckman, and former Democratic congressman Tony Hall asked people to join the movement. Additionally, many religious organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, have been vocal critics of the proposed federal budget cuts.
Wallis says that this isn’t really about balancing the budget. If it was, he says, they’d go where the money really is.
“Every day we're spending more in Libya than everything we'd like to keep in the budget. That's turning around the Biblical imperatives and beating your plowshares into swords. You're not going to solve the deficit with these programs. This is just mean. This is not believing the government should help poor people as a principle."
In 2010, about 14 percent of the federal budget went to programs that provide aid to individuals and families. A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis concluded that such programs kept 15 million Americans out of poverty in 2005 and reduced the severity of poverty for another 29 million people. Meanwhile, 20 percent of the budget, or $715 million, went into defense and security in 2010.
But despite the fact that going after food stamps during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression is cruel if not outright insane, the fact that Republicans are yet again gunning for food stamps isn’t surprising.
The GOP has long treated poor people like social pariahs. It was earlier this year that a Kentucky lawmaker suggested welfare recipients be drug tested because, after all, it’s common knowledge that anyone receiving food stamps is on the pipe. Also, drug addicts don’t deserve food.
If that sounds like hyperbole, Orrin Hatch made it perfectly clear this is exactly how Republicans think when he also proposed an amendment that would demand mandatory drug tests for welfare and unemployment beneficiaries.
When the GOP and Blue Dogs can’t rip bread from the arms of poor people, they resort to these kinds of draconian cuts operating under the guise of “reform.”
Bittman writes that in 2010 corporate profits grew at their fastest rates since 1950. Simultaneously, the United States set a record in the number of Americans on food stamps, while the richest 400 Americans amassed more wealth than half of all American households combined. Taken together, these facts point to a rotten, rigged system that needs correcting. Yet thus far, Congressional leaders seem to be willing only to hack away at the meager lifelines of the poor, which will further tilt the system in favor of serving the well-connected and lavishly wealthy.