Wednesday, July 17th, 2013...3:33 pm

Editorial: Starve the children

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Fortunately, I had finished eating my breakfast on Monday, when Rep. John Kline, the Republican representing Minnesota’s Second District in the U.S. House, came on Minnesota Public Radio. The first topic in the interview concerned the decision by the Republican-controlled House last week to separate food stamp funding from the Farm Bill.

The Food Stamp Program is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Traditionally, funding for food stamps has been part of past farm bills; however, the House Republicans want to lop some $20 billion from this program that serves the neediest families in the country.

Kline, who repeatedly has led efforts to gut federal nutrition programs, told MPR that the food stamp program “is getting out of control.” He said that there are “people getting food stamps that probably didn’t rate the food stamp program.”

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger quickly responded to the House effort to “split” the Farm Bill.

“This is a back room political maneuver that flies in the face of decades of bipartisan consensus and rural-urban cooperation that have produced past farm bills and balanced diverse national priorities,” said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON. “This ideologically driven and misguided effort, which is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to decimate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is outrageous and unacceptable. MAZON stands in strong opposition to this effort to split the Farm Bill and shred our nation’s vital nutrition safety net.”

Since the economy tanked in 2008, the SNAP program has been an important lifeline for millions of Americans facing “food insecurity” — not knowing where your next meal is coming from. I learned more about this last year from the documentary A Place at the Table, which tells the stories of American families grappling with hunger. I also interviewed the film’s co-director Lori Silverbush. When we talked at a downtown Minneapolis hotel, I mentioned that the film has a Minnesota connection: Rep. John Kline is shown speaking out in Congress against funding for child nutrition programs. About $10 billion was sought for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Finally, Congress passed a bill allocating $4.5 billion — one half of the money was taken from the food stamp program.

A fine legacy for Mr. Kline, taking food out of the mouths of hungry children.

I worked for two years in the Minnesota House, in the Public Information Office, and I saw this kind of mentality in action on the state level. For some Republican House members, it wasn’t enough that they were doing well in both their law practice and their side job as a legislator; no, they had to drag some of Minnesota’s working poor and impecunious elderly folks a few rungs further down on the socioeconomic ladder. I didn’t get it then and I don’t condone this kind of thing now.

I was brooding about this stuff on Monday, and then I opened up the New York Times to find Paul Krugman’s column titled “Hunger Games, U.S.A.” The Nobel laureate in economics wrote about, you guessed it, “the monstrous farm bill the House passed last week.”

“Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party,” Krugman opened. “We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.”

In late June, my congressman, Keith Ellison, voted against a version of the farm bill that included SNAP funding. He voted against a measure that would have cut $20.5 billion from the program formerly known as food stamps.

In a statement sent to the Jewish World, Ellison said: “The SNAP program is a vital lifeline for millions of people who suffer from hunger and food insecurity across the United States. These drastic cuts by House Republicans would leave more than 32,000 Minnesotans without necessary nutrition assistance, including 13,000 children. It would take money directly out of the pockets of American consumers, setting back our recovery in a slow economy. The same bill gives away billions of dollars to large agribusinesses and corporate farmers. I cannot vote for a bill with such misplaced priorities.”

Ellison continued, “Asking Minnesotans to choose between food assistance for their neighbors and stability for family farmers is a false choice. We can ensure that farmers get the support they need and make sure a single mother out of work has food on the table. If we want to balance the budget, let’s cut the billions of dollars in crop and oil subsidies, not limit support for hungry children, families, disabled and elderly.”

Also on Monday, I received a fundraising letter from the Community Emergency Assistance Programs (CEAP), which pointed out that more than “415,000 children in Minnesota receive free or reduced breakfasts or lunches at school. During the summer many of these children go hungry as parents can’t stretch their dollars enough to cover the cost of these additional meals. These children are in your neighborhood and need your help.”

You can donate cash and food items to CEAP; for information, go to:

I always felt liberated when summer vacation rolled around. I have never considered that some children dread the end of the school year and of regular meals.

The House will not have the last word on SNAP funding in the Farm Bill. Senate leaders have stated that they will not pass a Farm Bill without nutrition funding.

— Mordecai Specktor /

(American Jewish World, 7.19.13)

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