Kicking us while we're down
Mike Kelly voted to cut food stamps, and why that's a bad thing.
House Republicans recently did a very, very stupid thing.
Yes, yes. I know. I'm not exactly pushing out a surprising headline. "Shark eats prey." "Sun rises in east." "Man swallows pride." Still, what House Republicans did was pretty dang stupid on a number of levels, and it should be highlighted.
House Republicans recently voted to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program.
The basic stupidity here is that the food stamp program actually works. Krugman:
[I]s [the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP)] in general a good idea? Or is it, as Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, puts it, an example of turning the safety net into "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency."
One answer is, some hammock: last year, average food stamp benefits were $4.45 a day. Also, about those "able-bodied people": almost two-thirds of SNAP beneficiaries are children, the elderly or the disabled, and most of the rest are adults with children.
Beyond that, however, you might think that ensuring adequate nutrition for children, which is a large part of what SNAP does, actually makes it less, not more likely that those children will be poor and need public assistance when they grow up. And that's what the evidence shows. The economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach have studied the impact of the food stamp program in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was gradually rolled out across the country. They found that children who received early assistance grew up, on average, to be healthier and more productive adults than those who didn't — and they were also, it turns out, less likely to turn to the safety net for help.
There's more. Back in 2009, a Moody's study showed that food stamps subsidies were good for the economy, as each dollar of food stamps generates about $1.73 for the economy:
"If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it's very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need - groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill," said [economist Mark Zandi].
Tracking that single dollar spent through the economic chain shows what economists call the ripple effect, Zandi said. For example, that dollar spent at the grocery store in turn helps to pay the salaries of the grocery clerks, pays the truckers who haul the food and produce cross-country, and finally goes to the farmer who grows the crops.
By that same rationale, unemployment benefits also have a high economic impact. Compare those programs' effect on the economy to corporate tax cuts, and it's not even close. That's because big corporations are slower to spend, which is doubly true in today's economy. During the current recession, one of the biggest factors in its slow recovery is the tendency for large corporations to hoard cash – and to distribute extra profit or gains to company shareholders, not towards investment for business growth.
Food stamps are a good idea. They feed our most vulnerable populations, help ensure that future generations stay off government welfare, and they aid a struggling economy. So not only did House Republicans cut food stamps, they also voted last week to preserve tens of billions in subsidies to agriculture – most of which goes to big agri-businesses.
So what kind of person would vote to cut Food Stamps, with one hand, while doling out billions in corporate welfare with the other?
Erie, meet your Congressional representative, Mike Kelly.
This July, in a rare excursion away from Fox News, Mike Kelly appeared on "Face the Nation," and had this to say about vote:
...[W]hat bothers me...is that one in six Americans right now are on this program. Now either the economy is not growing at the rate that it should or this program is so badly flawed that we're letting too many people in. The sustainability of this is what concerns me.
You can't keep promising things to people that in the future you know you can't sustain. I have never talked to one person that says, we don't want to take care of the most vulnerable, we don't want to take care of the people that need it the most. But I have talked to people that said the system's broken, and when we look at what's going on we're wasting — wasting billions on a program doesn't seem to be lifting people out of poverty, but keep them in a state of poverty. That's not right.
Well, we already know what's not right, the idea that food stamps don't work. He does at least mention the real reason food stamp beneficiaries' numbers have exploded – the economy is not growing as it should – though, oddly, he dismisses it out-of-hand.
The recent growth of SNAP has indeed been unusual, but then so have the times, in the worst possible way. The Great Recession of 2007-9 was the worst slump since the Great Depression, and the recovery that followed has been very weak. Multiple careful economic studies have shown that the economic downturn explains the great bulk of the increase in food stamp use. And while the economic news has been generally bad, one piece of good news is that food stamps have at least mitigated the hardship, keeping millions of Americans out of poverty....
But, say the usual suspects, the recession ended in 2009. Why hasn't recovery brought the SNAP rolls down? The answer is, while the recession did indeed officially end in 2009, what we've had since then is a recovery of, by and for a small number of people at the top of the income distribution, with none of the gains trickling down to the less fortunate. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012, but the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. Why should food stamp usage have gone down?
Consider this, also: according to a recent study, 80 percent of adult Americans "face near poverty":
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized U.S. economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend.
You don't have to travel very far in Erie to see those realities in play. Things are not good for the vast majority of us. Our pay has declined. Our basic costs – especially health care – have increased. Jobs dwindle. Public services are slashed, including the funding of education and infrastructure. And, as Cory Vallaincourt mentioned in his recent, brilliant Upfront, 40 percent of Erie-ites receive food stamps.
But when Mike Kelly looks at Erie, he apparently sees an enormous hammock, with thousands of lazy lay-a-bouts who need the guiding, paternal hand of Mike Kelly to cut their safety net and get them back out and...do what, exactly?
Has there ever been a government representative who understands his constituents less?