Food is not a luxury but a neccessity

Congress is again negotiating around people being able to feed their families or going hungry.

In a close vote last week, the House of Representatives renewed the Farm Bill but without food stamp benefits.

Since 1970, when the needs of the agriculture industry and those of low-income families were first put together, agricultural subsidies and food stamps have gone hand in hand. This politically strategic alliance has served both parties: Republicans and Democrats have respectively used food stamps and agricultural subsidies as negotiation chips with the other party.

However, this deal has been thrown overboard. The Republican-led House decided to pass a bill that ignores how seriously families need food assistance.

Even though President Obama isn’t expected to sign this bill or another without food benefits, and the Senate won’t accept it either, there will be staggering losses when bills from both chambers are reconciled.

In New York City, 1.8 million people receive food stamps: 35% of them are children and 26% are over 60. In addition, 43% of New York Latino families have a difficult time affording basic foods. Nation-wide, the basic food needs of the most vulnerable communities are under attack.

One of the excuses the opposition is using to justify the cuts is the myth that food stamp beneficiaries game the system, are lazy and have more than they need. But the reality is that surviving on $134 a month for food —the average subsidy for a family— is by no means any luxury.

Another flawed Republican argument is the idea that a decrease in unemployment has lessened the need for food support. Although more jobs have been added, the National Employment Law Project found that these jobs are in the fast-food industry and retail stores—the types of jobs with low salaries and few benefits that make it an uphill challenge for families to keep up with the rising costs of food and to have real meals..

Republicans have said they’ll pass a food stamp bill. However, their end goal is to gut these benefits as much as possible and continue their austerity agenda, no matter who they hurt along the way.

Republicans are testing the idea of cutting funds that feed millions. If community and religious leaders don’t take action quickly, the future won’t just be uncertain, it will be a disaster.

Our elected representatives, who get to dine in DC’s top restaurants, must act sensibly, focus on the needs of many and set political interests aside. Otherwise they will send children and seniors to bed, hungry and in despair.