One Nation, Underfed

By on 01/23/2012 in featured, Uncategorized

This morning on DemocracyNow!, I got to talk a little about Newt Gingrich’s poisonous comments on Obama being the food stamp president. First, the facts. Under George Bush, the number of people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (what food stamps are more properly called in the US) rose by 14.7 million. Under Obama, the number rose by 14.2 million. It’s true, however, that much more money is being spent by Obama. As part of the stimulus bill, entitlements rose to a whopping average of $134.
The entitlements help, to some extent, to dampen in the impact of poverty. And in the teeth of the recession, it’s hard to argue against strengthening the safety net when so many Americans were falling into it.

Which brings us to Gingrich’s racial coding of ‘food stamp president’. Larry Wilmore deconstructs this nicely on The Daily Show.

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Newt Gingrich’s Poverty Code
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While Gingrich’s comments are vile and reprehensible, the abandonment of the poor is wholly bipartisan. The fiasco over last year’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act demonstrates this amply. I wrote about this in 2010, arguing that, given the 100+billion dollar annual cost of hunger, a watered down $8 billion-dollar-over-ten-years bill to feed children was a bargain. The total amount that the government authorized: $4.5 billion, paid for by raiding the SNAP entitlement funds. Taking money from adults to feed their children is craven, but as Gingrich’s comments, and the rhetoric of deserving and undeserving poor suggests, our politicians are becoming increasingly Victorian.

Beneath this, the conversation that isn’t happening is, of course, about why poverty flourishes, and how to end it. As the documentary ‘Finding North’ – slug line: One Nation, Underfed – points out, that many hundreds of thousands more people want to be on assistance but can’t qualify. One in four children are food insecure in the US, and – I was shocked to learn – half of children in the US will be on assistance at some point in their lives. Hence the documentary’s title. The beautiful title track, written by The Civil Wars tells of a country that has lost its compass, and is having trouble finding north.