Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The poor suffers again...billion$ in cut$ to food stamp$

By Charles Brooks

                         Photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Just ten days after delivering his most recent State of the Union address, where he described 2014 as the “year of action” – President Barack Obama kicked off the year by signing into law a $987 billion Farm Bill. In doing so, the president signed away $80 billion, over a ten-year period, in cuts to food stamp benefits. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cuts will affect approximately 850,000 people, who will see their monthly benefits reduced by $90. But just a few days ago, President Obama stood before the nation and outlined his proposals designed to tackle poverty, income inequality and economic mobility. These proposals focused on job creation, immigration reform, tax policy reform, job training, and unemployment insurance reform. Yet days later, President Obama talks about the reforms and the billions of dollars the new law will save. The $987 billion Farm Bill appears to be another example of how public policy can exacerbate poverty while simultaneously advancing income inequality. Consider for a moment that while billions of dollars are cut from food stamps – the agribusiness interests will reap the benefit$.

A recent Washington Post editorial characterizes the legislation as a $987 billion farm bill larded with subsidies for agribusiness. The editorial asks a critical question, “Why would a president concerned about inequality endorse such welfare for the prosperous?” The editorial continues, “This is a bill of, by and for the agriculture lobby, which, through sheer power and self-interested persistence, ground down reform advocates over three years.” Even freshman Senator Cory Booker observed the contradiction: “While subsidies to agribusiness remain largely intact in the farm bill, struggling families, seniors and disabled residents in my state are being asked to make sacrifices they can’t afford. This is deeply unfair. We need to be doing more to improve the economic security of the most vulnerable people in our communities, not less, and SNAP is a proven program for doing just that.”

The New York Times put it this way: “More recently, rising inequality has had much impact on the political process. Greater income and wealth in the hands of top earners gives them greater access to legislators. And it confers more ability to influence public opinion through contributions to research organizations and political action committees. The results have included long-term reductions in income and estate taxes, as well as relaxed business regulation. Those changes, in turn, have caused further concentrations of income and wealth at the top, creating even more political influence.”

Let’s take a quick look at the inequality issue for a moment: According to a September 2013 report by economist Emmanuel Saez, the richest 1% had grown 31% between 2009 and 2012 – while the income for the remaining 99% grew a paltry 0.4%. Based on preliminary data for 2012, the top 1% incomes increased sharply by 19.6% while again, the bottom 99% grew only by 1.0%. A few months back, renowned economist Dr. Joseph Stiglitz Professor at Columbia University wrote, “American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That’s no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.”

So you see the president’s endorsement of the 2014 Farm Bill is a significant piece of legislation when you take into account, that it’s pro-poverty and pro-business. The president squandered yet another opportunity to bolster his record on poverty. Signing this bill into law should place an even brighter spotlight, on his poverty record and almost compel the re-emergence of criticism and debate of Obama’s anti-poverty programs.

Dr. Jared Ball, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Morgan State University and co-editor of “A Lie of Revinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X tells The Blackboard, the president’s anti-poverty programs have been woeful. “He’s done very little but defend Wall Street, defend corporate America, defend inequality as it exists on black people and poor people themselves. But ultimately, we have to judge it based on the outcomes of the policy – with the conditions that black people face today and poor people face today – we see the lowest rates of participation in unions, in organized labor, we see police brutality and mass incarceration, segregation in schools on a level that we saw in the fifties and sixties, we see unemployment rates that rival what you saw in the 1940s, so there’s no progress made here but too many people are awed by the presence of a black president.”

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