The Recession, Foodstamps and Politics

The recession is deepening, and as more and more people lose their jobs, demand for social services, especially food stamps, is rising.

All across the country, families, including those with small children and infants, are going hungry.

And the stimulus package, which every Republican in the House of Representatives, refused to vote for, allocates 30 percent of its total spending on expanding programs that directly help the unemployed, the hungry and families in need.

Bill O’Reilly claims that this spending will not help the United States Economy recover.

In the January 28th edition of The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly claimed, “”increased food stamps have nothing to do with stimulating the economy.” Earlier on his radio show, he said similarly that increasing food stamp benefits would do absolutely nothing to stimulate the economy.

That is so easy for a well-fed and well-paid employed pundit to say, especially since he doesn’t bother to check in with experts in the field of economics to see if his opinions might hold some validity.

Because the fact is, he is not just obnoxious and hateful in this opinion, and uncaring toward the plight of his fellow Americans, he is just plain WRONG.

Economists such as Douglas W. Elmendorf, who is the director of the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office, stated in testimony before Congress on January 27th–the day before Bill O’Reilly once again stuck his big, fat, well-fed foot in his mouth–Transfers to persons (for example, unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance) would also have a significant impact on GDP. Because a large amount of such spending can occur quickly, transfers would have a significant impact on GDP by early 2010. Transfers also include refundable tax credits, which have an impact similar to that of a temporary tax cut.”

So, uh, who are you going to believe? O’Reilly, or a real, live economic expert?

If you don’t want to listen to one economist, how about listening to two–including a bona fide fiscal conservative?

Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.Com told Congressional leaders that the fastest and most cost-effective form of government spending to jumpstart the economy was “extending unemployment insurance benefits, expanding the food stamp program and increasing aid to hard-pressed state and local governments.”

So, what gives with the Republican claims that foodstamp programs don’t stimulate the economy?

I mean, think about it–if people are using food stamps, they are buying FOOD. And if they are buying food using food stamps, then whatever other money they have can be spent on OTHER GOODS. I mean, mind you I am quoting two leading economists in the US who have come to these conclusions, but the truth is it doesn’t take a degree to figure that out.

If people are buying food and other goods, that creates more demand for goods, which stimulates the economy by putting people to work. Supermarkets, purveyors of other consumer goods, trucking companies, wholesalers, farmers, and factories all then have a reason to retain and pay employees–because their is a demand for their goods and services.

So, why exactly do Republicans object to food stamps?

I’m not really sure.


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  1. Thank you.

    I don’t need food stamps, but I know people who do… and they’ve been turned down due to lack of funding. And this in a town that isn’t particularly hurting.

    Comment by Emily — February 2, 2009 #

  2. Why not? The Demos give billions to other countries and billions to their favorite pork. So let the masses starve. Cry me a river you bleeding hearts. I am sick of food stamps going to illegal aliens. I am sick of feeding the illegal aliens breakfast and lunch at the public schools.This is another reason California among other states are going broke.

    Comment by Flag — February 2, 2009 #

  3. I’ll happily pay for school lunches and breakfasts. I would rather pay more in taxes because of those rich people’s yachts and airplanes they don’t want to pay taxes on!

    Of course, in Flag’s world, everyone picking those crops for those breakfasts is paid a great salary and lives in first-class housing, I suppose…

    Comment by donna — February 2, 2009 #

  4. Well, if Flag’s opinion is any indication, maybe it is because some Republicans just don’t care about people other than themselves and their immediate families.

    Everyone else–well, too bad.

    I know someone who is on food stamps, and when I was pregnant with Morganna and nursing her, I had a low enough income to partake of the WIC program.

    And I have done a fair amount of work in food banks and soup kitchens.

    I think that if more people volunteered their time among the hungry, they would be less likely to be hateful about people who need social services.

    Comment by Barbara — February 2, 2009 #

  5. I fear that it stems from an attitude of sour, harsh judgment toward those who need help. If you are poor, you somehow need to be punished because it’s your fault. Some on the right also cling to the belief that anybody who gets food stamps either doesn’t really deserve them or will somehow use them for ill gotten gains. They should spend a month in the shelters here in SF which are among the better ones in the country and try to keep body and soul together on what’s given to the working poor. These are not career homeless but people who had a job a month ago, six months ago but lost it and, having made so little, had little to fall back on.

    Comment by Nancy — February 2, 2009 #

  6. Long time reader.

    I like your food writing a ton. Your political writing, not so much.

    Comment by Scott — February 2, 2009 #

  7. Long time reader.

    I like your food writing very much. I like your political writing equally as much. You are right on the mark Barbara. Keep it up.

    Comment by Maureen — February 3, 2009 #

  8. See, Laura, here is the thing: I never said that I agreed with the entire stimulus package as it passed the House.

    The fact is, I don’t agree with every little thing that is in there. In fact, a lot of it is rather dumb.

    But–I do agree with the fact that spending money on food stamps -does- directly stimulate the economy and thus is something that fiscal conservatives and plain old conservatives -should- agree with.

    And I don’t get why they don’t.

    I just read that the Senate Republicans have put forth a counter-bill–one that actually looks like it has more money appropriated for direct assistance like food stamps and for rebuilding necessary infrastructure–like the outdated electric grid that we have in large parts of the country and unsafe bridges and the like than the stimulus package already before the Senate.

    And frankly–that is fine with me. Some of the tax cuts the Republicans want I don’t agree with, but if they want to spend more on directly useful programs, I am all for it, and I don’t really give a damned whose idea it is!

    As for liberals giving less to charity–that may be, but that isn’t the case in my home. I suspect I give more to charity than Bill O’Reilly does, and I can pretty much guarantee that I have logged more hours working in shelters and the like than he has. I say that without knowing exactly what he does with his money and free time, because I don’t think he would be quite so lacking in compassion for poor folks if he had worked with them and helped them out a bit.

    Scott–you can’t please everyone all the time. Them’s the breaks. I am who I am, I write what I write and sometimes I just have to say, “What in the world is going on here?” like I did today. Because I don’t get it.

    So, my advice is this–you don’t like my politics–that is cool. Look at the tags on the bottom of the post and if you see the word politics–then don’t read it, and know that I will likely be writing about food in a day or two, and you will like that better.

    Maureen–thanks. I needed that.

    Comment by Barbara — February 3, 2009 #

  9. Laura–I do advocate the passage of -a- stimulus package–and soon–but I don’t think that the one that passed the house was perfect, by any stretch of the imagination.

    As I said, in just glancing at the package proposed by Senate Republicans–there is a lot to like in it.

    As anyone who looks at the way Congress works would know–the final bill will be very different than the first one that passed the House. Very seldom does anything go through both houses of Congress without changes. (And that is generally a good thing.)

    If Senate Republicans can help decrease some of the crap that is stuck into the stimulus package and -increase- benefits to the poor–well, I will be happy, and frankly, so would our President. I do think that he tells the truth when he says he just wants good ideas and he doesn’t care who presents them. He seems more like a pragmatist to me than a liberal or a conservative.

    Mostly, I am offended by O’Reilly’s spewing of baseless opinion disguised as fact.

    That really does torque my gizzard.

    Comment by Barbara — February 3, 2009 #

  10. OK, so I’m on the other side of the world and I follow blogs on both sides of the line.

    Just like the locavore idea, shouldn’t helping the poor be a local issue? Why should your taxes go to Washington, and then you get 30% back as aid programmes? Where’s the other 70% going?

    Another foodblogger suggested that states stopped sending money to Washington, and rather spend it locally. OK, I can see the insanity of that, what with Washington having all kinds of nifty black helicopters and stuph, but it sure would increase the wealth of the state and if done right the plight of the poor.

    Ah well, what do I know, I’m a total outsider 🙂

    (Hey, I know that Key Lime Pie is not green — thanks Barbara!)

    Comment by Wouter — February 3, 2009 #

  11. I made toffee for Christmas once, and brought it to work. One of my coworkers wanted to know if she brought me plenty of butter and sugar later, then paid me to buy chocolate if I’d make her some toffee. I said sure, but why did we need to wait?

    She answered she was going to get the butter, and maybe sugar too, from her mother, who had plenty of butter for sure, and maybe enough sugar too. She then explained that because her mother was elderly and made a certain income, that she qualified for assistance, and they gave her FOOD every month.

    Oh, I’ve heard of that, where people are given milk, cheese, and bread, maybe beans too, but I didn’t know what else they received.

    But now in my state, they give something like a credit card which only buys food, but not alcohol and maybe a few other restrictions I can’t remember. But they can buy soda, packaged meals, chips and candy with those cards. I’ve seen the cards swiped after they’ve bought those things. Usually they’re younger though. I see the older card users buying cheaper meats like pork feet or saltback, dry beans, and rice. So the older people at least know how to stretch their food budget.

    Hubby told me a story about one of his friends giving a possibly illegal family some chickens and a rooster because they were struggling to feed their kids. The guy returned a week later, and there were no more birds at all, and they were eating the last bird that night. The guy told the father that the birds were supposed to be livestock to buildup to feed them over the years, and to give them eggs. He then gave them some more birds, and some beans, rice, and a bag of dried corn in addition to some more chickens and a rooster.

    He checked in on them some time later, and the birds were gone again. He supposedly never gave them food again.

    Comment by Shreela — February 3, 2009 #

  12. Well, we know trickle down doesn’t work, but it does put more money in the pockets of those who need it least. Thanks for putting your neck out with this post. We spend so much time on the pleasure of food it’s nice to be reminded it’s also a necessity of life once in a while. I don’t understand why anyone would be so cruel as to think denying food makes good political, let alone ethical sense. Feeding poor people has not bankrupted anyone. Greed has.

    Comment by Amy — February 3, 2009 #

  13. @Laura: The problem I see with most official charitable giving figures is that donations to churches count as charitable contributions. And while some of that money is used to help the poor, a great deal of it goes toward maintaining the building and grounds, keeping the lights on, perhaps paying staff salaries, and so forth – in other words, things that benefit the givers, but not so much the poor. So it doesn’t seem quite right to me to compare a religious person’s donation to her church with a non-religious person’s donation to the local food bank.

    Comment by Johanna — February 3, 2009 #

  14. Well said!

    So, why exactly do Republicans object to food stamps?

    Right-wingers see the welfare state as their enemy. It goes against the basic principle that money should go to the rich through subsidies to huge companies like Monsanto, Cargill and ADM. And lets not forget the companies of the “military industrial complex”, to quote Dwight Eisenhower.

    Of course since the right wingers have been in charge for 29 years and have done nothing to alleviate social ills like poverty and hunger, why exactly anyone should believe them is beyond me. I mean, O’Reilly is one thing; who would expect any better from him? But all the mainstream news networks have been using these talking points without pointing out that a) Bush took us from a significant surplus to a mind-boggling deficit in just 8 years through massive government (military spending) and silly tax-cuts, and b) all that these folks are quibling about (including food stamps) comes up to about $3 billion or less than 0.5% of the stimulus package.

    Comment by Sameer — February 3, 2009 #

  15. I like both your food writing and your political writing (especially when they overlap).

    Comment by bread and roses — February 3, 2009 #

  16. One of the flaws in the last stimulus rebate package, in my opinion, was that it gave less money to people who had lower tax liability — so people with small incomes got only the minimum of $300 per person. We only got slightly more than that, and we’re not really poor — but people making twice what we do got the full $600 apiece, and statistics show that a lot of those people dumped it straight into savings or paid off debt. While I like to see people doing that stuff, I don’t think that was the intent of the bill.

    Poor people are more likely to spend a windfall on necessities they’ve been putting off. People with low to moderate incomes are more likely to spend it on small luxuries. Above that, you’re going to get people saving or investing, and that’s good, but not as useful to the economy as immediate spending.

    I’m not thrilled with the idea of giving food stamps to illegal immigrants, either. What I don’t get is Flag’s notion that, somehow, all the money is going to them. I’m pretty sure we have actual American citizens in need of food stamps, you know? Do we even give food stamps to people who can’t prove residency? Sure, there are always people who game the system, but some of them are born and bred Americans, so whatever.

    Comment by Elizabeth — February 3, 2009 #

  17. I was on food stamps for two years. At the time, I was working for AmeriCorps. Not everyone on food stamps is illegal, or remains on welfare forever. I am very grateful to the taxpayers that kept me fed while I served my community. Thank you.

    Comment by Laura O — February 3, 2009 #

  18. Barbara, I’m really perplexed why my previous comments – devoid of profanity, spam, and offensive content other than a dissenting opinion – have been deleted.

    Comment by Laura — February 3, 2009 #

  19. Most Republicans I know see the USA as a land of oppurtunity. People can come to this country and work there way up the ladder to attain whatever they want to. Many Republicans believe in taking responsibility for themselves and their actions, and they expect others to do the same. I was always against “big” government until my mother (who has no insurance) became quite ill and had to go into the hospital for an extended time and is now on several medications. She has been denied Disability, although she is going to apply again. (This would have made her eligible for medicare and food stamps.) Long story short, until you are put in a situation where the benefits of such programs become of value to you or to someone you love, it’s easy to focus on the people who take advantage of the system. There’s bad apples on every tree, some people can’t wait to get off of government assistance from the moment they are put on it while others waste it. As far as O’Reilly goes, although I sometimes agree with him (on issues unrelated to this one) he often comes from a place of no compassion. Sometimes people lift themselves up by their own bootstraps only to use it as a tool by which to judge others.

    Comment by Lisa — February 3, 2009 #

  20. Laura,

    Your last three comments were not deleted–they were caught by my spam filter.

    It does that sometimes–grabs comments that are legitimate and then puts them in the moderation queue, which means I have to physically approve them. Which I did–if you look back, all of your comments are extent now–except one that was posted twice, so I deleted the repeat so that you wouldn’t look like you didn’t know how comments work on a blog. I know that personally, when I accidentally make a double post on a blog comment I feel like people must think I am dumb or something. 😉

    Your comments were probably caught because you have commented more than three times on the same post and some of your comments were short. Sometimes that happens with comments. I don’t really know why or how–I don’t really know how the spam filter works, but it does keep the real spam out of the way. When I see that it is catching legit comments, I usually have to play with it a bit to get it to disgorge the comments back to their proper place.

    But your comments that I caught in the moderation queue are there, in the order in which you made them, so go backwards in the comments and look for them.

    I don’t care if you disagree with me or anyone else–if we all agreed the world would be a boring place.

    But no, I have not be deleting any of your comments, other than the repeated one. I don’t delete posts unless they are verbally abusive in some way, which yours are not.

    Comment by Barbara — February 3, 2009 #

  21. Loved the post. Love your food posts too, but sometimes I also like to get a better feel for who the person is behind the food blog!

    Comment by Marc — February 3, 2009 #

  22. People go hungry so politicians can argue about about whatever the lobbyists pay them to argue about.
    It’s a truly sad state of affairs when the politicians are so far removed from the people they are supposed to represent that they are clueless.

    Comment by katie — February 4, 2009 #

  23. Yes, some people on food stamp assistance do use their benefits to purchase soda and other unhealthy items. In other words, they eat like everyone else does. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been looked askance at when I use my food stamp card to purchase fresh vegetables and organic items; if want to eat healthily and well, I know how to economize and supplement my more expensive food items with lots of rice and pasta, I’m not sure why anyone else should be so concerned. (I’m serving a year with AmeriCorps; our ‘living allowance’ works out to be well below minimum wage. And yes, that’s unfortunately legal.)

    Food stamp benefits are not unlimited nor luxurious, they’re capped at $178/person maximum by federal program guidelines. But even with my very low income, I don’t receive the full $178/month.

    The issue, in my opinion, is less whether low-income individuals use their food stamp benefits on less-nutritional items, than that we, as a society, have largely forgotten how to cook. Perhaps Congress should add funding for cooking and nutrition classes for all low-income individuals, not just food stamp recipients, to the stimulus package.

    Comment by Heather — February 4, 2009 #

  24. @Heather: One thing I have been wondering is whether food-stamp recipients receive any kind of budgeting or meal-planning advice about how to make the money last through the whole month. I read an article some time ago where someone was complaining that she could not get enough to eat on food stamps and was going hungry at the end of the month, but from what she said about what she was eating, it sounded like she was making some really budget-unfriendly choices.

    Cooking and nutrition classes sound like a really good idea, but I wonder if a short pamphlet about budgeting wouldn’t go a long way by itself, if you don’t get one already.

    Comment by Johanna — February 5, 2009 #

  25. Oh, my heart breaks everytime I’m at the grocery store, waiting in line, and I watch someone’s cart full of processed, frozen dinners, junk food and diapers go through and then they swipe their food stamp card. Because I know they’re counting every single one of those dollars, and I know how much further those dollars would stretch if they only knew how to make so many of those things they bought pre-manufactured.

    The unfortunate thing is that most of those people who need the food stamps would hardly have the time for any kind of education, such as cooking/budgeting/nutrition classes.

    It would be wonderful if there was a magic answer, increasing benefits and amounts would be a short term help, but we’re not really helping these people if we don’t teach them the lifelong skills that they desperately need.

    Comment by Erika — February 5, 2009 #

  26. When I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter, one if the things I did was teach classes in nutritious-budget conscious cooking, because one of the problems a lot of women who leave their violent partners is that their financial situations go seriously downhill.

    And hardly anyone knows how to cook anything anymore–but I taught how to take apart a whole chicken, what to do with it once it was apart, how to stretch a roast chicken into several meals, how to make beans, soups, stews, rice-based dishes, nutritiously cooked vegetables, greens, the whole thing.

    And, I cooked dinner for them all once a week, and ended up informally teaching then, too. Teaching and acting as a listener–sometimes those women just needed someone to hear their stories.

    I think I may go back to volunteering like that–it made me far happier than a lot of other things I have done ever could.

    Comment by Barbara — February 5, 2009 #

  27. Long time reader.

    Love the food posts, but the politics posts are lame.

    Barbara asks, “I mean, think about it–if people are using food stamps, they are buying FOOD.”

    It really begs the question, “What kind of food?” Foie gras is “food”. Truffles are “food”.

    “No one said that poor people are buying foie gras and truffles!” screams the wealth-transfer advocate.

    But that’s merely illustrative of the point: not all “food” is created equal. A human being can survive on a diet of beans and rice since it provides all of the essential amino acids. Is that what “food stamps” pay for, or do they provide a nicer lifestyle than that?

    The reason that that the argument “food stamps pay for FOOD” is foisted is because opposing it can then be cast as, “So, you want poor people to starve?”

    Comment by Jim — February 6, 2009 #

  28. Jim,

    1. Not everyone who states an opinion contrary to yours is “screaming.”

    2. Amino acids are not the only essential nutrients.

    3. According to Heather, who should know, food stamps provide a maximum of $178 per month. How far does that go toward a diet of foie gras and truffles? You do the math.

    Comment by Johanna — February 6, 2009 #

  29. Jim, I know you are a long time reader.

    My point about them buying food with it, if you had bothered to read the entire statement, was that if they are using food stamps for food, then, some of their own money could be freed up for other necessities, like clothing, toiletries, medicines, and the like, all of which help boost the economy.

    And no, I wasn’t screaming–I put food in all caps to emphasize it. Perhaps I should have used boldface instead, so as to not have my thoughts picked apart based on one word misinterpreted by someone who didn’t even get the point of the statement in the first place.

    And yeah–no one is buying foie gras and truffles on $178.00 per month. You cannot even pay for a half pound of foie gras on that, or even one truffle.

    Your argument, if you can call it that, is, in this case, specious, because it doesn’t even pertain to what I was talking about.

    Comment by Barbara — February 6, 2009 #

  30. I see the recent election hasn’t managed to change everyone’s views. Someone had better point out to Flag that if all the “illegal aliens” starve, he/she might have to clean their own trash cans, cut their own lawns, pick their own fruit…

    Comment by Trig — February 8, 2009 #

  31. My sister is a disabled Master’s Degree student who can’t work at this point and relies on food stamps to supplement her meager disability income. She gets only $75 for the WHOLE month. She’s a raw food vegan and won’t compromise her diet and ethical choices just because she has use food stamps. She bargain shops for fresh produce as much as she can; she sprouts her own grains; buys in bulk; but she goes hungry a lot. I occasionally send her a $50 dollar grocery card to help her out through lean times, especially in the winter when her energy bills are high (something I can barely afford to do myself).

    Her food stamp benefits were cut from 125/ month in 2006 down to this meager, barely able to afford food, crap amount of $75. I know many more people who only receive $30/month. A dollar a day?? I challenge all you naysayers to try to survive on that!

    If you’re not willing to see an increase in food stamp benefits, then you had better be willing to fork over some of your own cash so your fellow struggling citizens can eat. I’m pretty sure they deserve not to starve.

    Comment by Roxanne — February 11, 2009 #

  32. This whole discussion just illustrates the fact that the average Joe Schmoe doesn’t know diddly about social services and the food stamp program.

    A few things to remember:

    1. You can not use a food stamp card to buy cigarettes, alcohol, or even medicines.

    2. Not every person who receives benefits gets the same amount. The amount you receive is calculated based on your age, your income, how many dependents you have, and where you live. The food stamp program is far from equal. There is a lot of disparity in the allotment of benefits. It’s also not easy to get enrolled in the program–simply because there’s not enough money to go around. I don’t know why a lot of people think that illegal aliens get food stamps. That is far from the truth. If you cannot verify residency and provide a valid SS Card, you cannot get enrolled.

    Maybe this false assumption stems from the fact that many people equate Foreign Language with being illegal. Know what? Pull your head out of your ass and wake up.

    3. The food stamp card cannot be used to buy toiletries, laundry soap, toilet paper, diapers, or anything else that is sales taxed at the grocery store. For this reason, the card cannot be used at luxury food boutiques (ex: bakeries, cheese shops, special charcuterie shops, etc.) because these items are taxed; and most of the time, these shops do not accept food stamp cards anyway. (If you want to own a shop that accepts food stamps there is a ton of governmental paperwork you have to fill out and you are then subject to some pretty strict federal oversights).

    I fail to see how the food stamp program, and beefing it up in the stimulus package, is such a burden to American taxpayers. Seriously? Are you that selfish? This is why the government has to force you to cough up the money in your taxes, because you don’t give a damn, and you certainly wouldn’t voluntarily give up your money so someone less fortunate can eat.

    Comment by Roxanne — February 11, 2009 #

  33. Preach on, Roxanne.

    Thank you for your comments.

    Comment by Barbara — February 11, 2009 #

  34. Not wanting to make sure a populace is at least minimally fed is the sign of a sick culture. We just have to look at North Korea to see the results of starving a country’s children.

    Comment by Patti — April 3, 2009 #

  35. My family of 5 is on food stamps, and we get $280/month. I’m self-employed and couldn’t work for 8 weeks when I had my baby, so we qualified financially. Had I not gotten pregnant with my 3rd child, we wouldn’t have qualified -our income would have been too high to qualify with 4 family members. Because I wasn’t working due to the pregnancy, we had to go on food stamps. I definately didn’t get pregnant just to qualify(a favorite right winger myth) I lost a lot of income due to having a 3rd child! Would the Republicans prefer me to have an abortion so we wouldn’t have to use tax payers money? What’s the worse sin to them? Anyway… I had to supply the DHS office with copies of everyone’s SS card, which I don’t believe you can get a SS# if you are an illegal immigrant, and copies of our drivers’ licenses. Two of my children also qualify for WIC, (I am nursing a newborn, so we get extra food instead of formula). Yet we pay taxes, too. In fact,we owe the state of Oregon income tax for 2008 because our earnings were higher last year due to bonuses my husband made that we won’t be getting this year. I find the whole thing pretty ironic. I used to have lots of preconceived notions about what type of people use food stamps and other government aid. Not anymore!

    Comment by brandie — September 17, 2009 #

  36. They are not “illegal aliens”. call ’em right. they is slaves. if y’ can’t have the human decency to feed folks that Can’t find a job that pays enough to live on… well, them slaves carry tuberculosis, I hear. And that stuff’s catchin’. So do your own tush a favor, and help out the sufferin’ downtrodden masses, yearnin’ ta live free.

    Because they’re still huddled, here on this shore.

    Comment by Mia — December 16, 2010 #

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