“April is the cruelest month,” the great twentieth century poet T.S. Elliot famously wrote. For 47 million Americans who receive government food stamps, however, November may turn out to be that cruelest of months.
That’s because since November 1, across the country, food stamp recipients have been getting substantially less in food stamps than they have in the recent past. The reason is that this year Congressional Republicans year slashed the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name of the food stamp program, by $5 billion, ostensibly in an effort to reduce the budget deficit.
In reality, the cuts are part of the GOP’s longstanding top-down class war. That war combines big tax cuts and subsidies for wealthy individuals and big corporations with a systematic, escalating campaign to rip out every remaining strand of the social and economic safety net, first for the poor (welfare was the first to go) and eventually for the middle class as well (Social Security and Medicare are now in the crosshairs).
Food is as essential a human need as there is, and a large proportion of those that qualify for food stamps are families with children. Nutrition is crucial to the physical and mental development of young children. Others disproportionately affected by the cuts are the sick, the elderly and the disabled.
You might think that anyone endowed with a minimum of empathy would recoil at the cruelty of a policy that amounts to throwing the most vulnerable among us under a bus. Are Republicans missing a gene that codes for the capacity for feeling the pain of others or what? Or is the GOP’s extremely high threshold for other people’s pain mainly a product of an extremely individualistic culture and an ideology of denial so powerful that the idea that their actions hurt real people never enters their mind?
Republican leaders seem to believe that those in need are by definition moochers, and they have been extremely cavalier about the consequences of their acts. In the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP candidate Mitt Romney was caught on tape denigrating that 47 percent of Americans who he views as “takers” who will never be persuaded to take care of themselves. House Majority Eric Cantor has rationalized cuts in social spending by saying that “we don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock.”
Now that’s chutzpah. The U.S. safety is no hammock. It’s a thin and tattered lifeline that threatens to break at any point. The amount of money that a family of four receives in food stamps in a month wouldn’t pay for lunch at some DC restaurants frequented by the GOP elite of lobbyists and politicians. Indeed, food stamp benefits are so miserly that the $36 dollars less in food stamps that a family of four will get as a result of the cuts is calculated by the government to equal 24 meals. That’s a dollar and change per meal.
Yet there is something deeper even than the final consummation of the Republican political establishment as the party of privilege and plutocracy. It is the ferocious resentment of a big part of the GOP base–and not only the Tea Party–against “those people,” the same ones Romney pointed his finger at, a deep-seated animosity highly inflected (and infected) by racial animus.
A new poll published in the Huffington Post confirms that. It found that a majority of Americans disapprove of the food stamp cut, although the article fails to report the percentages for the electorate as a whole, possibly because the numbers were close. But what is most telling is how opinion breaks down by party. The numbers suggest that what is commonly referred to as the dysfunction of Washington, the bitter disagreements and general paralysis, is not a skin-deep phenomenon endemic only inside the Beltway.
It’s a daunting national divide. Republican voters approve of the food stamp cuts by a whopping 67 to 25 percent. Democratic voters present a mirror image. They disapprove the cuts by 67 to 28 percent. Independents mostly disapprove, although only by 48 to 40 percent.
While they are already the minority party, widely unpopular, and in control of only one half of one of the three branches of government, Republicans have a constituency for their policies (a dwindling one) and they still hold virtual veto power over many issues, including spending on food stamps.
The result of such GOP control is already palpable. Food banks are facing demands beyond their capacity. Undoubtedly, forthcoming studies will show that hunger in the United States (Disunited States?), already at shameful levels, will have increased in a land where, ironically, farmers are paid billions of dollars not to grow food.