Commentary: Food stamp debate brings out the haters

Fort Worth Star-TelegramJuly 19, 2012 

It didn't take long for the more hard-hearted of the small-government crowd to respond to the news that the feds spent about $75.7 billion on their food stamp initiative last year, which is double what it spent four years ago.

Widely posted on Facebook last week was this pithy statement: "The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud of the fact it is distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us 'Please Do Not Feed the Animals.' Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves."

Wow.

The assumption that everyone who needs assistance is somehow dependent, lazy or unwilling to "learn to take care of themselves" is staggering.

God forbid folks who today are blessed with the means to provide for themselves ever hit a bad patch in the economic road. Here's hoping they always have family and friends to help them through the tough times.

Just because this is the land of plenty doesn't mean every American shares in the bounty. Story after story grabs headlines these days about people losing their jobs or their homes as a result of the worst economy this country has experienced since the 1930s. Once-proud and self-reliant people are having to turn to handouts and food stamps to feed their families and themselves. They are the working poor: people doing the best they can to avoid government handouts.

It's galling to hear the callousness with which that humbling desperation can be dismissed as the mindless dependency of a raccoon.

In a perfect world, it wouldn't be the government's job to provide benefits like health insurance, pensions, housing or food assistance.

But no such place exists this side of heaven. Even in the best of economic times, our society will have the poor, the hungry and the homeless.

Jesus said, "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them." (Mark 14:7)

It's sad that those wishing to help aren't keeping up with the number of people who are seeking aid. The Tarrant (County, Texas) Area Food Bank and Arlington Charities are just two examples of nongovernmental food assistance programs that are scrambling to keep up with local demand. In addition to not having sufficient donated canned and boxed items to meet requests, these agencies can't provide the more nutritious fresh produce and meats that are available to low-income Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP is in the crosshairs of the U.S. House, which is considering a farm bill that includes the biggest reduction in food stamps for the poor since 1996. Changes in eligibility rules would reduce enrollment by 5 percent, trimming $16.5 billion over 10 years from the Agriculture Department's budget.

More than 46 million people received food stamps in the latest count. That's one in seven Americans. Under the version of the bill approved early Thursday by the House Committee on Agriculture, up to 3 million people could lose those benefits if the bill passes the full House. The eligibility changes would knock 300,000 children out of the free and reduced-price school lunch program.

By Thursday evening, House Republican leaders weren't so sure they wanted to bring the bill to a floor vote before the November elections. There are apparently enough moderate Republicans and Democrats concerned that the bill is too severe that Speaker John Boehner may be willing to skip an intraparty food fight on the House floor.

History reveals pragmatic reasons why governments want their people healthy and fed: They're much less prone to revolt.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Jill "J.R." Labbe is the editorial director of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Readers may write to her at 400 W. 7th Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102, or via email at jrlabbe@star-telegram.com.

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