The fewer people relying on food stamps and other public assistance, the better for recipients and taxpayers alike. And fraud should be detected and punished. But in their zeal to reform and cut the food stamp program, the Brownback administration and the Kansas congressional delegation overlook how the historic downturn has left so many people jobless and hungry. They see greed, not the genuine need.
The talk of the “out-of-control” food stamp program ends up feeding the stereotype of poor people as lazy malingerers who lack only the will to find work, as it ignores how many of the people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program already work but don’t earn enough to make ends meet. It’s sobering, for example, that at least 39 of Kansas’ SNAP recipients live at Fort Riley. And that in the past five years, 80,000 Kansans joined the ranks of those living below the federal poverty line of $23,000 annual income for a family of four.
But in Congress, much of the debate over the new farm bill has been about how deeply to cut food stamps, with little regard for how much trouble some people are having feeding their families. Then-Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas once proudly called the expansion and reform of the food stamp program “the most important welfare change since the passage of the Social Security Act.” Now, with Kansas ranking 36th in the average amount given to food stamp recipients, the Kansans in Congress are among those pushing to cut SNAP spending by at least $31 billion over 10 years.
Last week, Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration tightened eligibility as of Oct. 1, letting a federal waiver expire and reviving a pre-2009 requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents work no fewer than 20 hours a week to qualify for SNAP benefits. About 20,000 of the 316,000 Kansans on food stamps would be affected – and by a change in a federally funded program that won’t save the state a dollar.
In recent years, the state has otherwise tightened access to welfare and child-care assistance and eliminated tax credits that had helped low-income families.
“Instead of giving people a pittance of money from the government, let’s push people into work,” Brownback told the Topeka Capital-Journal, in an interview about his anti-poverty goals conducted before his administration’s food stamp change had been announced.
But the state’s unemployment rate actually has increased slightly over the past three months. When there are no jobs available, requiring assistance recipients to work is just another way of denying benefits.
“This administration seems to want to decrease poverty by making it harder to live in poverty – not by assisting people,” Tawny Stottlemire, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, told the Capital-Journal.
Four years into the slow recovery, the shame is not that more people are turning to food stamps to supplement low or no wages and feed their families, but that politicians are so eager to cut off access to such help.