Thursday, October 17, 2019
EconomyNorth Carolina

Trump’s ‘Taxpayer First Budget’ imperils children, state budget is worse

Between Trump proposing to cut the budget for SNAP food stamps by $191 million and North Carolina senators booting 133,000 people off the state’s SNAP, children are being dangled over the edge of starvation. Republican lawmakers call this “compassion.” If only the kids paid taxes, they might not go hungry.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was clearly excited about the White House plan he introduced last week. “It’s called the New Foundation for American Greatness,” he told reporters, “but it should be called The Taxpayer First Budget. And that’s what’s really new,” he said. “We looked at the budget not based on recipients but on the people who pay the taxes.”

Soon thereafter, Mulvaney addressed the issue of compassion, because he knew “someone would ask” about it. He said, “Compassion needs to be on both sides of the equation—for those receiving the funds and those paying them.” But given the proposed reforms and cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, it’s clear compassion for recipients isn’t high on Trump’s agenda.

SNAP provides food stamps to approximately 45 million low-income people, two-thirds of whom are children, seniors, and adults with disabilities. Though created to help curb hunger, the program is heavily stigmatized due to misconceptions that adults collect assistance they don’t truly need. That myth is shattered by the fact that the program mostly serves children at risk of hunger.

Mulvaney stressed that the aim of the budget was to get people working. But that requirement already exists. Adults who don’t have dependents or a disability must work at least 80 hours each month or participate in a workforce program to qualify. Otherwise, they can receive food stamps for only three months over three years.

The new budget cuts $191 billion, or 30%, from SNAP over the next 10 years. During that time, up to 25% of the program’s costs would be shifted to state governments. Currently, states don’t pay any of the benefits but do pay for half of the administrative costs. States can also apply for waivers to the SNAP plan in areas with high unemployment rates or a lack of jobs.

Today in America, we politely euphemize “starvation,” calling it “food insecurity” and referring to starving people as “malnourished.” The euphemisms help us believe the problem isn’t so bad, we’re doing something about it, the situation is improving. Most importantly, the euphemisms create emotional distance from the suffering of those who are starving.

Starvation is a harsh way of life, especially for a child. It causes the body to break down muscles and other tissues in order to keep vital systems functioning. Victims often grow too weak to sense thirst and, therefore, become dehydrated. Skin dries and cracks, and muscles atrophy, making all movement painful. The stomach wastes away, fatigue and apathy set in, disease infiltrates. If the body loses 40% of its normal weight, death is almost inevitable. In adults, complete starvation leads to death within 8 to 12 weeks. Mercifully, starvation numbs the sense of pain, so the dying is not agonizing.

In the United States, 13.1 million children under 18 do not have consistent access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life. Besides creating health problems, lack of access for children has been linked to lower educational attainment and lifetime earnings. That, in turn, may well lead to another generation of starving children.

The sixth hungriest state in the country is North Carolina, where 26% of children live in households that struggle to put food on the table. During the recession, the state acted to extend SNAP benefits beyond federal guidelines so that more families could be helped. In 2015, as the hunger rate started inching down, the state’s average household on SNAP received $68.74 per month in food stamps. That same year, several Republican state lawmakers acted to completely block SNAP aid to 115,000 residents. Leading that effort was Senator Ralph Hise. Now he’s back.

This month, Hise slipped a provision into the Senate’s proposed state budget kicking nearly 133,000 low-income residents off SNAP. More than 51,000 of them are children. As has become typical of the Republican-controlled General Assembly, the Senate passed the provision without allowing time for any debate.

The reasons for the cut? According to Hise there are three. An article in the Progressive Pulse of NC Policy Watch describes them, with tongue slightly in cheek:

(a) [S]ome people were getting benefits automatically merely because they were poor enough to qualify for other programs (huh?),

(b) the rolls have been growing in recent years (welcome to the modern, haves-and-have-nots economy, Senator), and

(c) North Carolina’s eligibility standards were more generous than some other states (Heaven forbid).

These are the senators who sponsored the bill to cut SNAP funding for 132,900 NC residents. The budget will now go to the House, where Republican leaders plan to unveil a separate proposal.

Hard as it is to believe, Hise represents one of the most impoverished Senate districts (47th) in the state. Child poverty rates run at 30% in Madison County, 31% in both Yancey and McDowell counties, and 34% in Rutherford. In Hise’s home county of Mitchell, 3 of 10 children are indigent. Poverty translates into hunger, and in Mitchell, McDowell, and Rutherford counties, 31% of kids don’t get enough to eat. Yancy’s child hunger rate is even higher.

The most incomprehensible part of this hunger tale is that the budget provision doesn’t save the state a single dollar, because SNAP funding is all federal. Meanwhile, state food banks do an admirable job of feeding hungry children, parents, and singles. But it’s not enough to fill a gap that—thanks to Ralph Hise—could grow even wider.

Sooner or later, an American child will die from all the budget cuts. What happens, for example, if school breakfast and lunch programs go on the chopping block? For some children, those programs provide the only nutritional food they get in a day. Now imagine a child going through a long summer without that food. Remember, an adult can starve to death in eight weeks. A child would die faster. Perhaps that’s the compassion the Republican lawmakers have in mind.

To protest the state cuts in SNAP, contact your House representative through the North Carolina General Assembly website.


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Ann Kaplan

I am on the board of Food for Thought. We are an all volunteer 501C-3 providing food on the weekends to children that qualify for the federal free and reduced lunch program. This summer we are collaborating with the Beach Food Pantry to supply these same kids with food. In order to participate they must have a card that was distributed in their food bags this past week. Over 40% of the kids in Dare County qualify for free and reduced lunch. It takes about $250 a school year and $65 for the summer to feed a child. All our funds are from grants and individual donors. If you can please go to our website and donate there.