Thu, Nov 07, 2013 - Page 9 News List

US Republicans making the poor pay to balance the budget

The impetus to cut food stamps is ideological, not fiscal, and the right’s move to drive down wages means work provides no guarantee against hunger

By Gary Younge  /  The Guardian, LONDON

“Before the cut, it was kind of an assumption you were going to the food bank anyway,” Lance Worth, of Washington state, told the Bellingham Herald.

“I guess I’m just going to go US$20 hungrier — aren’t I?” he said.

The cut marks the lapse in stimulus package ushered in four years ago. However, while the recession is officially over, the poverty it engendered remains. Government figures show one in seven Americans is food insecure. According to Gallup, in August, one in five said they have, at times during the past year, lacked money to buy food that they or their families needed.

Both figures are roughly the same as when US President Barack Obama was elected. This negligence will now be compounded by mendacity. Republicans propose further swingeing cuts to the food-stamp program; Democrats suggest smaller cuts. The question is not whether the vulnerable will be hammered, but by how much.

The impetus behind these cuts are not fiscal, but ideological. Republicans, in particular, claim the poor have it too easy.

“We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency,” former Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said. “That drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

The notion that food “drains the will,” while hunger motivates the ambitious would have more currency — not much, but more — if the right was not simultaneously doing its utmost to drive down wages to a level where work provides no guarantee against hunger.

In last week’s paper for the Economic Policy Institute, Gordon Lafer, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, revealed the degree to which conservatives have been driving down wages, benefits and protections at a local level after their victory at the 2010 midterms.

“Four states passed laws restricting the minimum wage, four lifted restrictions on child labor, and 16 imposed new limits on benefits for the unemployed. With the support of the corporate lobbies, states also passed laws stripping workers of overtime rights, repealing or restricting rights to sick leave, and making it harder to sue one’s employer for race or sex discrimination,” he wrote.

That is why 40 percent of households on food stamps have at least one person working. And the states most aggressive in pursuing these policies had some of the smallest budget deficits in the country, he wrote.

Immediately after Obama’s election in 2008, his chief of staff to be, Rahm Emmanuel, said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

The crisis didn’t go to waste — but it is the right that has seized the opportunity. Not content with balancing the budget on the bellies of the hungry, it is also fattening the coffers of the wealthy on the backs of the poor.

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