This weekend’s editorial “Benefit levels not the problem” correctly identifies the severe hunger crisis in this nation as a “national calamity,” but incorrectly asks readers to choose between a focus on job creation and providing food assistance to those living in extreme poverty. The fact of the matter is, we can, and we must, do both.
Job creation has been my number one priority since entering Congress. As a small business owner, I believe we need to do all we can to ensure our workers are prepared with the skills employers need. But I do not believe we service our economy by allowing millions of children, seniors and severely disabled citizens — two-thirds of the recipients of federal food assistance — to go hungry.
Contrary to the hypothesis of the editorial, those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, an average of $1.50 per meal, are not seeking handouts for life. In fact, due to wage erosion, the number of working Americans who receive foods stamps has increased dramatically over the past decade. What SNAP does is provide 800,000 Wisconsinites the support they need to get back on their feet. In 2011 alone, the program lifted 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, above the poverty line. And every $1 we put into SNAP generates $1.70 in economic activity. In other words, our economy is better off when our citizens aren’t living with extreme hunger.
If you want to accuse me of participating in the SNAP food stamp challenge, where I am living on the average food stamp budget of $4.50 a day for one week, to generate publicity — that’s correct. I want the public to know how vital this program is to eliminating severe hunger in our communities.
And I want to highlight that Republicans are trying to cut SNAP by at least $20.5 billion — kicking two million people off the program and denying 210,000 children access to free school meals. Choosing to balance the budget on the backs of our neediest citizens is the wrong choice for Wisconsin, and will do nothing to create jobs. If we cannot support our citizens who need us the most while also focusing on economic growth, to steal a line from the editorial, “America, it’s been fun while it lasted.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan
2nd Congressional District