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Bill hurts the poor, won’t help find jobs

Shameful is too kind a word to characterize the vote of House Republicans Thursday to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and eliminate benefits for nearly 4 million Americans. The cut would be a foot on the neck of millions of Americans barely able to subsist in an economy still reeling from the country’s biggest recession since the Great Depression.

This kind of cut, $40 billion over 10 years, would cause more Americans to go hungry – many of them children. .Texas Rep. Lloyd Doggett was not far off the mark to call this the “let them starve” bill.

Fortunately, the Senate has said this legislation is dead on arrival in that chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, said Thursday, the “Senate will never pass such hateful, punitive legislation.”

SNAP, or food stamps as it was called for years, helps buy food for those who earn up to 30 percent more than the federal poverty level ($11,490 for a single adult). That amounts to about $5.10 per day.

But the majority of SNAP benefits, more than 91 percent, go to households with incomes way below the poverty line – 55 percent goes to households with incomes below half of that line, about $9,500 for a family of three.

The overwhelming majority of participants are poor families with children, seniors, or people with disabilities. Close to half of all participants are children. In North Carolina, 1.7 million poor people receive benefits, most of them children.

These are the struggling people the House vote would send begging for food.

Lawmakers have cloaked their heartlessness in misconceptions and myths both about the poor and about SNAP.

They say the cuts are needed to get the surging costs of the program under control. In 2001, the program served 17 million people at a cost of just over $15 billion. By June of this year, there were 47.8 million people enrolled with annual costs of about $75 billion. Republicans attribute that to people gaming the system and receiving benefits they shouldn’t be getting.

But the Congressional Budget Office targets the recession as the primary cause and predicts SNAP spending will return to 1995 levels by 2019 as the economy recovers. SNAP enrollment growth already slowed in 2012.

Lawmakers also contend that the cuts, which tighten eligibility and cut off benefits to able-bodied adults who don’t find or train for jobs, will boot out people who don’t want to work. But that’s misleading. SNAP already has strict work requirements. Able-bodied SNAP participants must register for work, accept any job offer and participate in workfare or training programs if it is offered to them. People who quit a job are automatically disqualified from SNAP. States can also compel work registrants to participate in job training. Individuals who fail to participate automatically lose their SNAP benefits.

Finding work, though, in this fragile economy remains a challenge for many. Experts say more than 11 million people are out of work across the nation, and more than 4 million have been out or work for six months or more. There are about three unemployed job seekers for every job. Tellingly, the bill contains no new money for training or to help find work.

North Carolina’s jobless rate continues to hover close to 9 percent, and last month 3,600 more residents lost jobs, according to the N.C. Commerce Department. Policymakers are wrong to take away the small safety net that SNAP provides as the able-bodied adults in these families and others nationwide valiantly seek work. This bill is punitive, hurtful and, yes, shameful. The Senate should reject it.

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