Deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), designed to keep low-income Americans from going hungry in the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession, have forced affected families to rely on food banks and community organizations to stave off hunger. Government benefits for nutritional assistance were reduced in November, after the expiration of emergency legislation following the 2008 collapse, cutting benefits for 48 million people, including 22 million children, by an average of 7%.
The $5 billion in cuts in government assistance to struggling families has stretched charitable organizations thin, leaving many Americans families without the ability to put food on their tables. The government will cut $40 billion over the next ten years, but the average $29 per family of three will amount to about 1.5 billion meals this year alone.
The government's early Christmas present was just the beginning. That's because the government now contends that we are in a period of economic growth and therefore we will see even more cuts to emergency assistance over the next year. Happy New Year!
On Saturday at midnight, approximately 1.3 million Americans who lost their jobs in the last two years during the worst jobs market since the Great Depression, saw their unemployment benefits expire. Congress, now known for not getting anything of importance done, failed to pass an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
Republicans believe giving long-term benefits to the unemployed is bad for the economy. They say we can't afford billions of dollars of aid in this economic climate. And the worst part, they argue, is that people getting unemployment benefits lack motivation to get a job. The fact that the average unemployed American is getting $300 dollars a week would make that argument seem tenuous at best.
Democrats believe, correctly, that 1.3 million Americans will spend their $300 a week, pumping money into the economy and creating jobs. They also point out that in order to receive unemployment benefits, the recipient must be actively seeking work. Obviously, there are a few who are not actively in pursuit of a job yet are taking money from the government. They must have rich parents, or be independently wealthy. Playing video games all day and watching Duck Dynasty marathons must be fun. But most people receiving benefits are just trying to get by in one of the worst economies in history. They have a family and they need it, desperately. Democrats have the compassion to know this. Unemployment insurance can stimulate the economy and help get workers back where they want to be. In addition, it's the right thing to do.
The program was originally intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, which typically lasts six months. Republican members of Congress resisted continuing the benefits due to its high costs. But the Congressional Budget Office estimated the $25 billion needed for another year would spur the economy enough to create around 200,000 jobs.
Reinstating unemployment benefits is expected to be one of the first priorities for congressional Democrats in the new year. Democrats have voiced their displeasure at Republican obstructionism in general, but when it comes to taking money out of the hands of people who need it most, Democrats have been quick to point out that America was built on the foundation that we don't abandon our citizens in times of crisis. Democratic National Committee chairwoman and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Saturday, “What makes matters worse, the loss of benefits comes just a few days after the holidays.”
According to White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, “the President said his administration would, as it has for several weeks now, push Congress to act promptly and in bipartisan fashion to address this urgent economic priority.”
Obama says the abrupt cut-off in cash assistance during the holidays will hurt economic growth and jobs. But don't expect him to suddenly talk sense into Republicans who could care less about doing the right thing and are more interested in their self-interests, including courting Tea Party nutjobs and racist and homophobic old white guys who vote for them.
There's a lot at stake. By the end of 2014 the number of Americans who will lose access to long-term unemployment benefits will be five times higher. By July, another 1.9 million people will lose extended benefits, and by the end of the year, 1.6 million more will be kicked out of the program, totaling about five million Americans.
Five millions Americans is a large number to abandon, as if any number would be OK. And this a lot worse than a $29 cut in food stamps. We’re talking about mortgage payments, healthcare payments, money to pay for essential utilities and other necessary living expenses. For instance, how do you actively seek employment without a car, clothes, computer, or phone? And by the end of 2014, this will affect not just those five million people, but their dependents as well. This amounts to an additional 5 to 10 million people.
The proposal from Congress and the President is to extend these benefits for another three months, and most would suggest that this will prevent a crisis. Actually, it will be kicking the can down the road, something Congress is getting really good at.
It will take more than three months to pull the U.S. out of the worst economic quagmire since the Depression. A lot longer. But the economy will eventually turn around. The laws of economics dictate this.
The decisions made by the our governmental leaders can prolong the recovery, or shorten it. Giving unemployment benefits to Americans who have fallen on hard times is imperative. Economists have pointed out that not only will it not hurt the economy, but extending unemployment benefits will help create jobs by putting money back into a much needed segment of the populace.
Democratic members of Congress will make reinstating these benefits one of their first priorities in the new year. The long-term unemployed are facing historically difficult times. Congressional Republicans shouldn't abandon them.
But don't hold your breath.