The Common Good

'I Expect Better of the Congress:' Rep. McGovern on SNAP Cuts

Editor's Note: On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee voted to slash $16.5 billion in nutrition assistance funding in the farm bill. Rep. James McGovern led efforts to stop the drastic cuts to anti-hunger programs. He offers his thoughts to Sojourners on the committee decision.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass. Courtesy McGovern office.
U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass. Courtesy McGovern office.

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I am disappointed that a majority of the House Agriculture Committee voted against my amendment to eliminate the $16.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, included in the Farm Bill. These cuts are detrimental, cruel, and immoral. They literally take food away from hungry people; people who are poor; people who struggle to feed their families. SNAP is the most effective and efficient federal program. Let me repeat that – the most effective and efficient program. In fact, the error rate was 3.81 % in 2010, the lowest in the history of the program. And that rate continues to decrease.

It is false to say that these cuts won’t affect benefits or that they are merely closing loopholes. They will result in less food for hungry, low-income Americans – period.

What is low-income? Poor people. Eighty-five percent of families on SNAP are making less than $24,000 for a family of four. Less than $24,000 for a family of four! It’s easy for members of Congress—who take a taxpayer-funded salary of $174,000 a yearto point fingers at SNAP beneficiaries. But just think for a minute about how hard it would be for any of us to live off of less than $24,000 a year and still be able to support not just ourselves but our husbands and wives, kids and—in many cases—our parents, too.

Some talk about a culture of dependency, as if getting on SNAP is a lifelong goal for some. Hardly. Depending on SNAP to feed your family is no walk in the park. People don’t sit back and dream about the day they qualify for SNAP.

SNAP isn’t a culture of dependency; it’s a last resort for people who have no place to turn. To call it a “culture of dependency” implies that people are poor by choice and that they enjoy needing this help.

Most people probably don’t know that the average SNAP benefit is $1.50 per meal per day, and that this will go down next year even if we do nothing. Cutting SNAP increases the burden on the poor who either have to go hungry or somehow find help from churches and other non-profits who continue to struggle with donations in this economy.

There’s a lot of hurt out in America today. Unemployment is still too high. Families have to do more with less.

Millions of struggling Americans have turned to their government as a last resort. They said ‘Without help, I can’t feed my kids.’ And after spending down most of their savings, selling cars, and making other serious cuts to their own budgets—they put their pride aside and accepted SNAP to feed their families.

These cuts are shameful. They are hurtful. And they are exactly the wrong answer for people who struggle with hunger. How can we—the richest country in the world—look at our neighbors and say ‘who cares?’ ‘figure it out yourselves,’ and ‘good luck?' 

How can we choose to protect the rich and the powerful yet turn our backs on those who struggle paycheck to paycheck, many at no fault of their own? What does this country stand for if we refuse to help people when they need us most?

I expect better of the Congress. I had hoped for better of the Agriculture Committee.  And I will continue to fight against these cuts in the weeks and months ahead.

Currently serving his eighth term in Congress, Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., is a Minority Whip; is the second-ranking member on the House Rules Committee, and is a member of the House Agricultural Committee. McGovern is also co-chair of both the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the House Hunger Caucus.

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