Support for Our Troops That Falls Short of the Mark

Amodei-SNAP02.fwFormer Vice President Dick Cheney took to Fox News on Monday night to lambaste the Obama administration’s proposed cuts to the military budget, lamenting the president’s desire to ensure that Americans have access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps — despite the fact that over 900,000 veterans currently depend on them.

Cheney appeared on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show last night to discuss the the fiscal year 2015 military budget as previewed on Monday afternoon. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey announced among other initiatives a reduction in the size of the Army, a fact that didn’t sit well with Cheney. While the hand-wringing that the Army will be smaller than at any point after World War II is mostly hype, the former vice president still readily agreed with Hannity’s premise that the proposed cuts are “dangerous,” lamenting that Obama has not had Reagan-like increases in defense spending.

“You know, I’ve obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top,” Cheney said. “It does enormous long-term damage to our military. They act as though it’s like highway spending and you can turn it on and off.” Cheney also remains worried that in announcing a rebalancing of U.S. strategy towards Asia — and away from the Middle East that was the focus of his time in office — is just a cover for Obama to slash the military budget further and display his dislike for the military further:

CHENEY: They peddle this line that now we’re going to pivot to Asia, but they’ve never justified it. And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it’s driven by budget considerations. He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.

Amodei-SNAP.fwWhat Cheney apparently doesn’t realize is that many of the same troops that he claims the Obama administration doesn’t support rely heavily on the food stamps that he wishes to cut. A Defense Department review released last year showed that military families were more reliant on food stamps in 2013 than in any previous year, with over $100 million in food stamp spending at military grocery stores. “Food stamp usage at the stores has more than quadrupled since 2007 as the recession compounded the already difficult financial situation faced by military families,” ThinkProgress’ Deputy Economics editor Alan Pyke wrote last week.

Despite his experience in first the Pentagon and then the White House, Cheney also seems unaware that many of the troops he supports depend on the same food stamp program once they leave military service. “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in a recent analysis. Given the high unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans — 9.7 percent for those who served when Cheney was in office — it’s unsurprising that many of them need assistance from the government to help make ends meet.

And in spite of the large number of former servicemen and women that count on the program, Cheney’s Republican colleagues are still fastidiously attempting to skin it to the bone. As of last November, thanks to House Republicans’ demands, veterans saw along with their fellow beneficiaries a cut of $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person. The result: food stamps now average less than $1.40 per person per meal. Given just how sparse benefits were, at just $133 a month on average before the cut, Cheney’s protestation against Obama for wanting to provide more to those who have served comes across as somewhat unseemly.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

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Another Side of Inequality

A vast gulf between the rich and the rest of us is incompatible with democracy.

Sam PizzigatiBy Sam Pizzigati

You’ve no doubt heard about our widening gap between the rich and the poor. But did you know that the gap between the rich and America’s middle class is growing almost as fast?

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute have just released a study that illustrates the severity of both these gaps, on a state-by-state basis.

In 15 different states, our most affluent 20 percent now average over eight times the income of our poorest 20 percent, the two think tanks explain in their new report, Pulling Apart. Back in the late 1970s, not one single state had a top-to-bottom ratio that large.

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After adjusting for inflation, the nation’s richest fifth of households have seen their incomes rise an average $2,550 each year since the late 1970s. Average incomes in the nation’s bottom fifth have increased just $1,330 for those entire three decades.

And incomes for the households in America’s middle fifth? In all 50 states, the gap between the top 20 percent and the middle 20 percent has widened significantly. The gap between the middle 20 percent and top 5 percent has widened even more, according to Pulling Apart.

In New York, for instance, inflation-adjusted incomes for the state’s middle fifth of households increased by just $14,118 between 1977-1979 and 2005-2007. Over that same span, the top 5 percent of all incomes soared by $193,877.

All these figures, Pulling Apart emphasizes, understate the real gap between our affluent and everyone else. The report’s data come from surveys the Census Bureau conducts every year. These surveys don’t take into account income from capital gains, the profits from buying and selling assets.

Capital gains income, the report notes, flows “overwhelmingly” to America’s most affluent. In 2012, 87 percent of all capital gains “will go to families in the top 5 percent of the U.S. income distribution.” The gaps detailed in the report would be substantially wider if it took this income into account.

But do these gaps, in the end, matter all that much? The researchers behind Pulling Apart have a clear answer. Rising inequality, they contend, “adversely affects our economy and political system.” The most basic problem with growing income gaps? They eat away at our social cohesion.

In a democracy, civics textbooks tell us, people come together to discuss, debate, and decide solutions to common problems. But this democratic deliberation only works effectively when most people have the same problems in common. In deeply unequal societies, they don’t. The rich in these societies live apart, in their own private universes.

These wealthy people “become increasingly isolated from poor and middle-income communities,”Pulling Apart‘s authors observe. One example: They send their children to private schools and “lose sight of the need to support public schools.”

“As a result,” the report explains, “support for the taxes necessary to finance government programs declines, even as the nation’s overall ability to pay taxes rises.”

The encouraging news? We may still have gridlock in Washington, but states, individually, can take steps to reduce inequality. States can enact minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage rate. They can de-emphasize sales taxes and rely more on taxing the income of ultra-wealthy households.

The payoff from moves like these?

“States that narrow — rather than widen — income gaps,” promises Pulling Apart co-author Elizabeth McNichol, “will reap economic benefits in the long run.”

OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. OtherWords.org

SNAP is NOT “Wasteful Spending” as the GOP would have you believe

Every five years, Congress passes a bundle of legislation, commonly called the "Farm Bill" that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and expires in 2012.

The current iteration of the “farm bill” is S3240, which represents the most significant reforms in agricultural policy in decades.  As passed (Vote 164) by the Senate, the bill would cost just under $1 trillion over the next 10 years, financing dozens of price-support and crop insurance programs for farmers and food assistance for low-income families. It would end direct payments, streamline and consolidate programs. Plus, it would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. It would also strengthen top priorities that help farmers, ranchers, and small business owners continue to grow our economy.

S3240 may be know as the “farm bill,” but a majority of the spending under this bill is devoted to the food stamp program.  Once the bill got to the House, their first order of business was to increase cuts in the bill to $35M instead of the $11B in cuts identified and passed by the Senate.  The bill should be before the house on July 11th. Those deeper cuts have been signed off by both Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-MN).

So let’s look at the cuts that affect the working poor.  While the Senate cut only $4B from the food stamp program (SNAP–Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), the House version cut more than $16B from SNAP.  Than means that 45% of the proposed cuts are coming out of the mouths of the truly needy by changing the rules through which a family might qualify for assistance.  The House version:

  • Requires that recipients must receive “welfare” (TANF–Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) to “automatically” qualify for SNAP
  • Closes a “loophole” that allowed families who qualify for heating assistance to automatically qualify for SNAP

The kicker is, that if a family’s assets (SNAP asset limit of $2,000) drives them slightly over the “categorical eligibility” mark (with say a car that allows them to get to work or the store), they’ll still be living in poverty, but they’ll be ineligible for any SNAP assistance.  The CBPP (Center on Budget & Policy Priorities) estimates that the Lucas-Peterson version of the Farm Bill which ends “categorical eligibility,” would deny assistance to approximately 2-3 million people, some of whom are currently receiving assistance.

According to the CBPP, the proposed cuts would cause significant hardships for millions of low-income families, in that,

  • The bill would terminate SNAP eligibility to several million people.  By eliminating categorical eligibility, which over 40 states have adopted, the bill would cut 2 to 3 million low-income people off food assistance. 
  • Several hundred thousand low-income children would lose access to free school meals.  According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), 280,000 children in low-income families whose eligibility for free school meals is tied to their receipt of SNAP would lose free meals when their families lost SNAP benefits.
  • Some working families would lose access to SNAP because they own a modest car, which they often need to commute to their jobs.  Eliminating categorical eligibility would cause some low-income working households to lose benefits simply because of the value of a modest car they own.  These families would be forced to choose between owning a reliable car and receiving food assistance to help feed their families.

Instead of working to strengthen our economy, the Republican-led House has instead, decided it’s necessary to rein in costs on the backs of the poor.  If they actually did their job to strengthen the economy, millions of the working poor might actually earn enough money such that they no longer needed the temporary assistance.

History demonstrates that SNAP caseloads and expenditures fall after unemployment and poverty fall, as CBO’s recent report on SNAP notes.  SNAP caseload growth already has slowed dramatically; in fact, over the last six months (through April 2012, the most recent month for which data are available), SNAP participation has declined slightly.  According to CBO, in the years ahead the share of the population that participates in SNAP will fall back to 2008 levels.

According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which counts SNAP as income, SNAP kept more than 5 million people out of poverty in 2010.  SNAP also lessens the severity of poverty for millions of others; if SNAP is counted as income, it lifted 2.5 million children above 75 percent of the poverty line in 2005, more than any other program.

SNAP is NOT contributing to our long-term budgetary problems, yet the GOP–led House has framed it as the evil of all evils, and as such, must be curtailed and/or eliminated completely.  I’m not buying it, and the present-day GOP’s revolting values are not the values of the nation in which I was raised.


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