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Wednesday, 07 January 2015 07:35

Loss of Food Stamps Looms for Unemployed Adults: Arctic Blast of Cruelty Hits US

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

fds(Photo: USDAgov)

The possibility of implosion persistently looms over the US economy, but a moral disintegration of the nation has been simmering for decades.

The continued reduction in food stamp support is the latest addition to the dismantling of a social safety net that fulfills an ethical obligation to individuals in the US. That obligation is based on the reality that the current financial system is structured with incentives to ensure that full employment is never achieved. Large-scale unemployment is necessary in order to keep corporate profits high by keeping the costs of labor low.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts that in the government's fiscal year of 2016, it is possible that one million adults (without dependent children) who do not have jobs will have lost their food stamp benefits. These are individuals in extreme need of supplemental food support for survival: 

Unemployed, nondisabled childless adults on SNAP [the food stamp program] tend to be very poor. USDA data show that while these individuals participate in SNAP their gross income averages 19 percent of the poverty line - about $2,200 per year for a household of one in 2014 - compared to gross income of 58.5 percent of the poverty line for the average SNAP household overall…. Some 96 percent of them live in households below 100 percent of the poverty line.  

Some 40 percent of this vulnerable population are women. Almost one-third are over age 40. Among those who report their race, about half are white, a third are African American, and a tenth are Hispanic. Half have only a high school diploma or GED.  

The Center estimates that new regulations will result in a loss of $150-$200 a month in food assistance for individuals who have total incomes of just over $2,000 a year.

Why will so many people lose food stamps? The change will result from reinstating restrictions in many states that only allow adults (without dependent children) to receive SNAP for three months after losing a job. Even if they are actively looking for employment - and can document their job search - they will not be eligible for food stamps after that time, due to the end of a waiver program in most states. 

Al Jazeera America reports:

While the nationwide employment outlook has improved somewhat in recent years, food banks around the country are reporting levels of food insecurity and demand for emergency food assistance that are unprecedented in the modern era. That, in part, is due to other recent cuts to food stamps, including a $5 billion across-the-board cut that took effect on November 1, 2013. An additional $6 billion in automatic cuts are expected to occur over the next two years.

Claire Benjamin, spokeswoman for the advocacy group Food Policy Action, said that waiving work requirements on top of those cuts would have a "sobering and disproportionate effect on very poor individuals."

One of the profound and cruel ironies is that, as BuzzFlash has noted over the years, the government distribution of food stamps actually adds to economic activity: People who spend food stamps stimulate employment down the entire food chain, starting at the store or market where the food is purchased. Therefore, cutting back on food stamps for those in need in all likelihood actually increases unemployment, because less money is spent to stimulate work in the food distribution chain.

In addition, the notion that people can create employment for themselves out of thin air is wantonly nonsensical. The perpetuation of this myth punishes the jobless for the state of the economy - yet the myth persists.

Al Jazeera America records just such a sentiment from the Tea Party Governor of Maine, Paul LePage:

Paul LePage, announced in July 2014 that his state would not be applying to extend its waiver on work requirements for another year. He said that imposing work requirements would help the state "protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient."

"People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout," said LePage. 

The US's system of virtually unfettered capitalism leaves many able-bodied people without jobs, a reality that is built into its profit structure.

Forcing people to starve, scavenge or beg for food in order to increase the asset and income consolidation of the economically privileged is not only ignoble, but it also could lead to the irreversible moral dissolution of the nation.

Copyright Truthout. May Not Be Reprinted Without Permission.