Values and food stamps

Politics, for all its sound and fury, still signifies something. Ideally, it’s an expression of public values. Thursday in the U.S. House, “ideally” was nowhere to be seen.

The U.S. House voted 217 to 210 to give 3.8 million Americans on food stamps the heave-ho. Three Washington lawmakers — Republican Reps. Dave Reichert, Doc Hastings and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — voted with the majority to whack $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Reichert, a moderate, chairs the House subcommittee that oversees food stamps. Message: The United States is an exceptional nation, which can be exceptionally foolish when it comes to addressing challenges of the working poor.

“One of every eight households in Northwest Washington needs food stamps to put food on the dinner table,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said in a statement. “Nearly 20 percent of veterans need food stamps. There are better ways to cut the deficit than by taking food from families struggling with poverty and unemployment.”

Larsen’s Second Congressional District, which stretches from Everett to the Canadian border and includes Whidbey Island Naval Air Station and Naval Station Everett, illustrates the need. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, 38,624 district households received foods stamps in fiscal year 2011. Of those, one quarter have a senior citizen in the house and nearly half support children under 18.

Data is the enemy of naysayers who elevate stereotypes and code-word racism. Eighty three percent of the district’s food-stamp households are white. African Americans? Under two percent.

What, then, is the end game when partisans recognize that gutting food stamps is a non-starter?

If the mission is to underscore the trope that Republicans care more about the one percent than families struggling to make ends meet, then mission accomplished.

“We’re debating an extreme bill with no chance of becoming law, when we could be weeks into conferencing a farm bill,” Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, a member of the Agriculture Committee, said on the House floor. “Even at the height of the recession, 60 percent in Washington’s [SNAP] programs found employment and more than half were off assistance two years after the program.”

Conservatives blame Obama for relaxing eligibility standards during the Great Recession, when unemployment was at its peak. It’s a spurious argument that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shreds, documenting the slowdown in SNAP caseloads.

The program is doing as it was designed to do — minimizing the worst impacts on the working poor.

The best antidote to the political babble on food stamps was Pope Francis’ message on mercy. Tune out the noise and love thy neighbor.

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