The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Friday, June 16, 2006

Trimming the deficit-- one bag of groceries at a time

I missed this story when it first surfaced early this year. But it's certainly worthy of attention during a week when Congressional Republicans approved the ninth emergency war spending bill (total cost of Iraq to date: $320 billion, all on credit). And an all-too-familiar remider of what 'fiscal conservatism' means to the neo-fascists.

I'm including a lengthy excerpt from the article because it makes two points-- not only are the costs of Republican policies falling squarely on the backs of the working class and the poor, but even when they "cut government spending" (in this case cutting the annual budget by less than 0.00004%), they're ensuring higher costs to society in the long run (Three strikes, anyone? Maximum sentences for first-time drug offenders?). And it's all just in time for the retirement of baby boomers.

When her food stamps run out each month, Rita Mash of Nelsonville, Ohio, turns to a box of surplus food delivered under a federal program. With the canned vegetables and fruit, cheese, cereal, peanut butter and evaporated milk, she feeds her husband and four grandchildren. "This way, we are able to have groceries for the last week of the month," Mash says. "This program is vital to us."

Yet President Bush's budget proposals for fiscal 2007 would eliminate the program (the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP, started in 1968), which serves 420,000 low-income older Americans in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Total projected savings: $107 million—out of a $2.8 trillion budget.

"It's unconscionable," says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. Her group and other charities deliver 12,000 food boxes a month and have a waiting list of thousands.

"If we can't sustain these seniors in independent living, they're going to move into nursing homes and increase the costs to government," Hamler-Fugitt says. "Do we want to give them CSFP food boxes valued at about $150 a year or spend $50,000 a year to put them in a nursing home?"

The Bush administration says it wants to eliminate the food distribution program, which also helps low-income women and young children, because its effectiveness has not been demonstrated and because it overlaps with the food stamp and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) programs. Instead, more of the older recipients will be encouraged to apply for food stamps if they don't already receive them.

The administration's claim that food stamps will replace the surplus food is "a poor excuse" for eliminating the program, says Richard Noriega of the South Texas Food Bank, which has about 5,000 people enrolled in CSFP.

Noriega estimates the retail value of the monthly food deliveries at $55 a box. The monthly food stamp benefit for an older individual is less than $20, often as little as $10, and the program has more restrictive eligibility requirements. In addition, Noriega says, the recipients "then have to pay someone $10 for gas to get them to the grocery store to buy the food."