THE CAUSES of poverty are complex and many. One cause, though, is emerging as a dominant factor in the record numbers of people living in poverty: Congress.
This week, both the Senate and the House moved on a new farm bill, which determines the budget and policies for agriculture every five years or so. In addition to agriculture, it also funds the food-stamp program.
On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee approved a $940 billion farm bill, a day after the Senate approved its own version. The House bill calls for cutting $40 billion over the next ten years, half of that from food stamps. The Senate wants $4 billion in food-stamp cuts.
The farm bill doesn't just establish food policy for this country; it provides generous price supports and other subsidies for farming: sugar supports, subsidies to farmers for crop insurance, and price supports for peanut and rice farmers, among others. Price supports mean that if the market batters prices on farm commodities, the government pays the difference to farmers.
So, we're paying billions to make sure that food is produced and big agriculture stays profitable, while cutting billions from programs that assure that poor and hungry citizens get food to their own tables.
According to the New York Times, the House debate over food-stamp cuts had members flinging Bible quotations at each other, some in support of the cuts and some defending against them. One Representative from Tennessee actually quoted a verse of Matthew that says "the poor will always be with us," and said that churches, not the government should take care of the poor. To which we say: OMFG.
Congress continues to show a stunning lack of awareness of a deep crisis in this country: 47 million people now live in poverty, 10 million more than in 2007.
Twenty million households rely on food stamps each month. In 2010, nearly 15 percent of all households reported being food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States
In Pennsylvania, about 1,806,000 residents are now getting food-stamp assistance; 450,000 of those are in Philadelphia. That number has dropped by 2 percent in the past year thanks to the Corbett administration's imposition of an asset test, designed to end abuse of the program, which simply doesn't exist.
Food stamps are not a generous government handout. The average benefit is $137 per month. For many, that's the only government help they get.
That will be reduced further for all recipients, though, in November, when a temporary boost to SNAP benefits will end and cut $20 to $25 a month more.
Congress is about to make that even worse. The Coalition Against Hunger estimates that the House Agriculture Committee's bill would cut 130,800 Pennsylvanians off SNAP entirely.
It's hard to fathom how Congress can be this cruel and out of touch. Then again, this is a body whose members boast a median net worth that is about $1 million more than that of the average American, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.