How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Opinion: Assault on food stamps for the poor is appalling in light of blatant corporate welfare in farm bill

Over the last four decades, income inequality in America has become worse than at any time since the Great Depression. The middle class is shrinking; the number of poor people is growing while the wages of the top 1 percent are increasing astronomically (48.2 percent of total earnings last year). According to a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development study, the U.S. has the highest income inequality in the developed world.

At the same time that we have seen the gulf between the haves and have-nots increase dramatically, we have seen record corporate profits. Instead of using their profits to invest in human capital and capacity at home, too many American corporations have propped up their share prices by buying back stock and expanding their production abroad. Likewise, we have seen extraordinary increases in Fortune 500 CEO salaries and witnessed our government dramatically expand corporate welfare.

Nothing more dramatically epitomizes the recent pattern of corporate welfare than the 2013 Farm Bill. The Senate passed its version in May. By a vote of 216-208 (without a single Democratic vote), the House approved the bill in July, but it did not include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program). House Republicans will soon consider legislation that would cut $40 billion from SNAP during the next decade. A provision of the new legislation would disallow states from granting exemptions to SNAP’s work requirements for able-bodied adults who don’t have children, something most states currently do because so few jobs are available.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that as many as 4 million people would be dropped from the program, which now has more than 48 million participants, a majority of whom are senior citizens, children or disabled.

The $40 billion cut would be on top of previously scheduled reductions in benefits that will go into effect Nov. 1, when supplemental funding for SNAP dries up because of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009 by a Democratic-controlled Congress.

The Recovery Act had provided a slight boost to benefits to ease the hardship on millions of unemployed workers. For families of three, the cut will be $29 a month — leaving them with $319 a month for the remaining 11 months of the next fiscal year (less than $1.40 per person per meal). There is little doubt that the reduction in benefits will significantly increase the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food this fall.

While the GOP has been pushing to slash food stamp benefits, there has been very little discussion, from either party, regarding federal agriculture policy that enables American agribusinesses to receive lucrative subsidies, which enable them to rake in huge profits regardless of market conditions. In the op-ed “Farm Bill’s Corporate Welfare is Unacceptable” (Jan. 2013, U.S. News and World Report), Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, wrote the following regarding decade-old price and commodity supports: “Under current law, businesses that produce commodity crops — corn, soy, cotton, or wheat for example — receive a variety of federal supports.

One of these, direct payments, provides a per-acreage subsidy for certain farmland owners, regardless of prices, crop yield or profitability. As a result, some farm businesses making hundreds or thousands or even millions of dollars each year also receive a generous annual check from the federal government even if they don’t grow a crop.”

Alexander also wrote about the out-of-control spending of the highly subsidized federal crop insurance program: “This friendly sounding program provides generous federal subsidies (on average, 62 percent) to encourage farm businesses to purchase federal crop insurance policies. Unlike the insurance policies that most people or other businesses are familiar with, crop insurance actually insures not just crops, but the expected revenue from selling those crops. It’s as if your homeowners insurance didn’t promise to pay you if your house burned down, but guaranteed you a profit when you decide to sell, even if you bought it at the peak of the bubble.

Federal crop insurance is out of control. In fiscal year 2012, the total cost of the crop insurance program set a new record of $14 billion. And here’s the kicker — 2012 was a year of near record profits for agriculture. In every state, participants in the crop insurance program have received more in claims payments than in premium dollars put in over the past 15 years. And remember, for every $1 in premiums, agribusinesses only chip in 38 cents to insure their own crops while taxpayers pick up the remaining 62 cents. That is not insurance or a safety-net; that’s a hand-out.”

Agribusinesses spent more than $173.5 million in 2008 on lobbyists to ensure that their five-year corporate welfare carve-outs are preserved and expanded. This level of corporate welfare should be unacceptable to all of us always, but especially when we are grappling with trillion-dollar deficits and are being told that we need to make hard choices.

The assault on SNAP is especially appalling in light of the blatant corporate welfare that agribusinesses receive because they have the resources to retain high-powered lobbyists to fight for their interests.