Commentary - August 30th, 2013
2:24 pm
Tue September 3, 2013

In Montana, We Don’t Let Our Neighbors Go Hungry

This week, children across the state headed back to school after another beautiful Montana summer. And while there are many kids who wished summer would last forever, there are also kids in every community in the state, who are excited to get back to the classroom - because back to school means getting enough to eat.

Each school day over 80,000 students across Montana eat school lunch, with over half of those kids eligible for free or reduced lunch. 1 out of ever 5 school kids also eats breakfast at school. School nutrition programs are hugely important to low-income families who struggle to put food on the table every night.

School nutrition is not only an important discussion because it is back to school time, but because if House Republicans get their way in the next few weeks, they will slash $40 billion from food stamps and with those cuts some Montana kids will automatically get kicked off free and reduced lunch. 25% of kids in Montana are already living in poverty.

The proposed cuts to food stamps are stunningly harsh. In a state and a country where so many individuals, families, and communities are still pulling themselves out of the Great Recession, it is wrong. Balancing any budget, state or federal, on the backs of those who are most vulnerable in our communities, low-income families, veterans, seniors, kids, is always the wrong move. There is always a better choice than letting our neighbors go hungry.

And to be clear, this is a political decision, a proving ground for Congressional Republicans about their commitment to the myth of  “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” I worked hard and made it and so should you.

Montanan’s Representative Steve Daines surely did make it. He is ranked the 41st most wealthy member Congressman with a net wealth of somewhere between 4.6 million but less than 23 million. So while it might not be polite to talk about how much someone makes, I don’t think it is polite for the US House to tell someone who can’t find work and can’t enroll in a job program because there isn’t one in their rural community that they don’t deserve to get food stamps or have enough to eat.

So, I sincerely hope that our lone voice in the US House can recognize his great privilege and wealth, understand that not all families are so fortunate, buck his caucus, and do the right thing for Montanans by opposing cuts to food stamps.

These $40 billion in cuts to food stamps, like so many of the proposed cuts to other programs that help the most vulnerable in our communities, has again been made under the banner of deficit reduction - and it is time we call their bluff.

For starters, the way in which this food stamp cut is crafted is to incentivize states to kick folks off of the program. It is a smart and manipulative bill that splits the saving from removing these folks from the food stamp rolls and gives back ½ of the money to states. For example, in Montana 12,000 individuals, families, seniors, and veterans are expected to lose access to benefits if the cuts go through.

The average monthly SNAP benefit in Montana is $127.78 a month, a total savings of $1.53 million a year, so the state of Montana would get. $766,690 – three-quarters of a million dollars to spend on anything they want. We shouldn’t be building roads or filling budget gaps while people in our communities go hungry - not to mention that this is a shameful way to legislate.  

It is worth noting that as a country we need to get over our obsession with deficit reduction. In the last two years we have seen billions in deficit reduction over the next decade with 80% of that reduction coming from spending cuts, and only 20% from revenue increases. And right now, we are seeing some of the fastest deficit reductions in our nation’s history. Many economists believe spending cuts are only prolonging the economic downturn.

The fear of the deficit is going to be mongered for as long as possible and used to justify deep and painful cuts to programs and services, with elected leaders simply shrugging their shoulders because they had no other option.   

These proposed cuts to food stamps are simply the next victim in a crusade to slash and burn our social safety net. But it has to stop. In a state where 1 in every 8 people relies on food stamps to get enough to eat, Congressman Daines must see through this partisan chatter and dare to do what is right, dare to oppose cuts to food stamps.

But he really needs to hear from us because he will be voting on these cuts in a matter of weeks. Please call him, introduce yourself and ask him to oppose cuts to food stamps. If you yourself or anyone you love has benefited from food stamps, tell him that too. You can reach Congressman Daines at (406) 502-1435. And you can find out more about these proposed cuts to food stamps at our website: montanawomenvote.org.

I’m Olivia Riutta with Montana Women Vote. Thanks for listening and have a fabulous holiday weekend! 

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