By Harry Brill
Friday September 27, 2013 - 04:16:00 PM
The debate in Congress about the funding of the food stamp program, formally named the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is NOT about whether to make or reject cuts. It is True that not a single Democrat in the house voted for the draconian cuts that the Republicans supported. But the Democrats are not opposed to reducing the food stamp budget. Instead, they support a more modest reduction, which is still substantial. In fact, the Democrats on the Senate Agricultural Committee voted to cut food stamps while increasing subsidies to some southern farmers to guarantee them a certain level of profits. Reflecting the view of the Democratic Party, the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Schultz, also favors a reduction in the Food Stamp budget. In her own words, "I'm certain that we could embrace as House Democrats some measure of cuts. I mean, every program can benefit from some savings".
But not only should cuts be avoided. The food stamp budget should be substantially increased. The abysmal state of the economy FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF WORKING PEOPLE is becoming even more abysmal. As a result, a growing number of middle class Americans are joining the ranks of the poor. Two developments are especially ominous. Many employers are converting full time jobs into part time work. Because up to twice as many employees are needed to substitute for the former full time jobs, the employment statistics reflect an increase in jobs. That looks good on paper. However, its significance is the substantial increase in poverty wage jobs.
Second, layoffs, including mass layoffs whether due to offshoring, productivity gains, or business decline have been substantial. In the last ten years almost 6 million manufacturing jobs have vanished domestically. That's about a third of all domestic manufacturing jobs. Many of these jobs lost are a result of relocating abroad. In one manufacturing sector, the apparel industry, which is labor intensive, the decline in American made apparel purchased domestically has been horrendous. Since the early nineties it has declined from over 50% to about 2 1/2%!
Other sectors too are shedding jobs. The Bank of America has just announced that it terminated the jobs of 1000 employees. The highly profitable bank, Wells Fargo, just sent out layoff notices to 2300 employees. For those who are interesting in tracking daily layoffs, the grim website www.dailyjobcut.com
will keep you informed.
Clearly, the private sector is taking us on a fast track toward a deeper economic decline. What is occurring is ironic. Each business is pursuing its own "rational" self-interest by keeping costs, particularly labor costs low. But the sum total of this "rational" behavior causes irrational consequences. In the long run mass buying power appreciably declines which becomes a crisis for business as well as for working people.
The one institution, the federal government, that is capable of taking the larger view, is not doing so. On the contrary, its role has been to deepen the crisis by reducing its budget. Only a mass movement, similar to the experience of the 1930s depression can possibly turn the situation around and achieve a transition from this current Raw Deal period to New Deal programs.
Meanwhile hungry people, including but not limited to children, disabled, seniors, unemployed and underemployed workers, must not be allowed to suffer hunger with its disastrous health consequences.
It is surprising to many California residents to learn that California ranks first in the nation for discouraging qualified applicants from obtaining food stamps. Only about half who qualify succeed. This contrasts with many other states, including Republican states, where 80 to 90 percent obtain food stamp benefits.
Right now every effort should be made to be prepared for another economic decline by assuring that nobody is deprived of food. So we must do all we can for both the current poor and the many who will be soon joining them. Demand members from both houses of Congress and the President Obama to support and vigorously advocate for a substantial increase in the food stamp budget.