Running Against Food Stamps
By Francis X. Clines
The Opinion Pages
The New York Times
Jobless and hungry, Anthony Jedvabny stood in a charity grocery line in Philadelphia, shocked at how far he’d fallen from his well-paying career as a music producer. “I never imagined this,” he said, inching along North Sixth Street in a grateful crowd at a food center run by Philabundance. “I’m down to basic survival,” said Mr. Jedvabny — a starkly human statistic in the news that Philadelphia’s poverty rate has hit 25 percent, worst among the 10 largest cities in the nation.
In the perverse ways of politics, Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker, is advising his party’s candidates to make a big issue of the fact that food stamp distribution has hit a historic high of more than 40 million Americans. “It turns out that Barack Obama’s idea of spreading the wealth around was spreading more food stamps around,” said Mr. Gingrich in a supercynical stratagem that ignores the Republicans’ central role in unleashing the recession and blocking programs that could speed a turnaround.
Democrats preoccupied with political survival have been nearly as hostile toward the food stamp program. Fecklessly invoking fiscal responsibility, the Democratic-controlled Congress voted to strip $11.9 billion in long-term food stamp financing in a Peter-to-Paul stunt to pay for emergency aid for state budgets. And the Senate has been aiming to cut another $2.2 billion in stamps to finance child nutrition reform.
Child nutrition is essential, but the legislation’s title as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act doesn’t parse well in the face of parallel food stamp cuts. The administration has promised to seek a saner form of financing when the House takes up the measure after the election. Otherwise, the Congressional shell game could eventually cut $59 from a family of four’s monthly stamp allowance, currently at $294.
Instead of playing politics, Philadelphia is confronting on-the-ground reality, fighting to get more food stamps to the poor. More than 427,000 residents — a quarter of the city — receive the stamps. But more than 150,000 other poor people need to apply, according to the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, which has volunteers working the streets.
“Which future do I want?” asks Mr. Gingrich, never at a loss for the simplistic. “More food stamps? Or more paychecks?” Unlike the upper-income tax cuts Republicans furiously protect, food stamps, minimalist as they are, are antirecession sparks that generate $9 in economic activity for every $5 spent, according to federal statistics. Everybody wants a paycheck, but people have to eat.