A person making $50,000/year pays a dime a day into the food stamp program

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Seems like I mention this tidbit a lot, whether in discussions or in writing. I think it needed to have it’s very own post here.

The math on this: here

It works out to be about  $36 per year. That’s about the average amount a SNAP recipient receives each week. On average. For my family , we receive $20/per person per week but my partner works full time. The amount varies based on your income and resources and it’s different in each state…but on average, it’s typically between $30-35/ week.

It isn’t a lot and I would be willing to bet that many of the people who are not rich politicians who complain the most about safety net programs don’t even earn $50K/year.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on poverty” has turned into a war on people who live in poverty. The focus on what poor people get detracts from other ways the government spends the taxpayer dollars and the ways government enables the rich to get richer. 424207_278582278875736_171609283_nThe focus needs to be on what is keeping people poor, not the programs designed to help them out while they are poor.  You don’t want to your dollars going to support poor people? Then advocate and work towards making things better for poor people.

The attack on single mother who have children and are receiving government support is particularly upsetting to me. “Why should I have to pay for someone else’s bad choices? “, I was queried one day. “If you can’t afford children, don’t have them.”

It must be a comfortable place to be that you can wrap how life works up so neatly. There’s no margin for error, no speedbumps in life that complicate plans. Having children isn’t a good choice for everyone but those people usually don’t retain custody of their children.  For everyone else who chose to have a child, the circumstances happened in their life leading up to,during, or after the birth of that child don’t offer valid proof to that decision being a bad choice.

Things happen and the group of people least likely to have a means to have a back-up plan to save their ass is women who made the choice to be a mother. Divorces happen. Women flee domestic violence. Partners die. Women are more likely to have left the workforce to care for the children they chose to have under secure circumstances and then be left with nothing when things go badly. Women are less likely to have a college degree and be able to get a living wage job. The daycare situation in the U.S is atrocious and accountability for deadbeat parents ordered to pay child support is ridiculous.70% of the poorest people on the planet are women.  Don’t vilify women who have children to support. We haven’t exactly created a sustainable system that works for them.

The safety net in place does not give people an excuse to languish in poverty and living off the government dime. Trust me… no one is languishing in poverty.  The Almighty Taxpayers need to stop believing the myths perpetrated by uninformed jerks who have prejudices about poor people. Before welfare reforms, it was more likely that people stayed at a status quo within the system. Languishing is not the right word. Existing would be more appropriate. These days, there are limits to how long a person can receive assistance without documentation of a disability. If a person is unemployed, they have to either get a job or enroll in school or job training. There is no infinite food stamps for someone who doesn’t work and getting TANF (cash assistance) is damned near impossible. A lot of criticisms made about the welfare system are spoken by people who have no clue what the actual rules are that recipients need to comply with.

The safety net helps people while they are struggling and gives support until they get out of the crappy situation they’re in. That’s what those programs do. They don’t enable people. They don’t take taxpayer money to pay for other people’s “bad choices”. Everyone makes choices that make life difficult in some respects and every single person deserves the chance and ability to be helped during the bad times.

The alternative is that we just let people become homeless and starve. I think if you advocate for that, you’ve lost the right to call yourself a human being. If you’re making $50,000 a year, just quietly let go of that $36 as a token of your humanity.

Tianna Gaines-Turner’s testimony as a witness to hunger and Melissa Harris-Perry’s letter to Paul Ryan

I talked a little bit about Paul Ryan’s “War on Poverty” hearings here and the lack of real knowledge of poverty represented. Melissa Harris -Perry addresses exactly that and his committee’s refusal to allow Tianna Gaines-Turner to testify about her firsthand knowledge of poverty. You can read her written testimony here.

After she was not allowed to testify in person, Tianna Gaines-Turner of Witnesses to Hunger sent in written testimony to Rep. Paul Ryan and the House Budget Committee about her family's current experience living in poverty.

Melissa Harris-Perry’s letter to Paul Ryan

Last week on this show, U.S. Representative Barbara Lee said she would ask the House Budget Committee chair to invite our guest, Tianna Gaines-Turner, to testify about anti-poverty programs. Tianna is a “Witness to Hunger” and a married mother of three who receives food stamps and other federal benefits to help make ends meet.

But the Republican chairman of the committee refused to have Tianna at his “war on poverty” hearing. My letter this week is to that chairman, Congressman Paul Ryan.

Dear Congressman Ryan,

It’s me, Melissa.

Look, it’s great that you had a hearing on poverty. That you asked whether we’ve made any progress in the “war on poverty” in the past 50 years. I’m glad you had four experts on poverty programs, including our favorite nun-on-the-busSister Simone Campbell.

But you know what would have been a hell of a lot better? If you heard from someone who’s actually living in poverty! Someone who’s working, and still struggling to feed and clothe her children, and to afford health care. Here’s the kind of thing you may have heard from Tianna,describing her life on our show in May:

“Food insecurity is not just a depression or a stress for an adult. It’s very much on the minds of young children every day. And I don’t understand how people can sit and sleep, knowing there’s a child somewhere, 8 years old, 4 years old,  worrying about, is my mom gonna eat?”

You had the chance to hear her, Congressman Ryan. But you refused, only allowing Representative Barbara Lee to enter Tianna’s written comments into the record. Would things have been different if she was there? Would you have been able to look Tianna in the eye while telling her that you care about the poor?

At the start of the hearing, you said you want to find ways to lift people out of poverty. You said:

“This is about improving people’s lives. In this country, the condition of your birth shouldn’t determine the outcome of your life. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. That’s something we all believe in. That’s something we all care about.”

But your budget proposals paint a very different picture. Your so-called “Path to Prosperity” budget would cut $135 billion from SNAP.  You know, the food stamp program that helps feed 22 million American households a month. Let’s put that in perspective. That’s more than six times the amount House Republicans proposed cutting in their farm bill this earlier year.

Even that much smaller cut–$20.5 billion, to your $135 billion–would be devastating to American families.

According to a new study by the Health Impact Project, the (comparatively small!) $20.5 billion cut could result in 5.1 million people losing their food stamps, including more than one million children. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would go hungry. Is that something that we all believe in, congressman?

The study also found that the SNAP cuts in the farm bill–again, a tiny fraction of the cuts youwant–would increase the poverty rate. Not exactly lifting people out of poverty. And that an increase in hunger and poverty would lede directly to an increase in diseases like diabetes and heart disease in adults, and asthma and cognitive impairment in children.

Tell me, congressman, how exactly that’s “improving people’s lives.” And your plan doesn’t even save any money! The increase in diabetes alone could cost $15 billion more in health costs over the next decade. And the impact from the cuts you want, Congressman Ryan–it would be six times worse.

Could you look Tianna Gaines-Turner in the eye and say you want to improve her life, while taking away the means to feed her family? Could you keep a straight face? Since you refused to allow her at your poverty hearing, I’m guessing not.

Sincerely,
Melissa