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Guest Column

November 2, 2013

Congress playing hunger games

On Nov. 1, the daily ration of Food Stamps (also known as SNAP) was cut for 47 million Americans. Each of these families now has $29 a month less to buy food.

How do you make children go hungry in a country where there is no famine? It’s not easy. It takes work for politicians to make it look like A) people don’t really need food stamps and B) that our nation can’t afford them. It requires moralizing about who deserves what, plus inaccuracies about economics and how much food people need. It is called The Hunger Game. We’re all playing it.

If you are becoming comfortable with watching people dig in trash cans for food while you are enjoying a nice lunch, you are playing The Hunger Game. Your growing ease with this sign of desperation in destitute people is what helps some players keep cutting the best program the nation has to prevent people going hungry — food stamps. Not food pantries.

In The Hunger Game, reasonable Americans come to believe that people who pull plastic bottles from others’ trash are just avid environmentalists, and that the 400,000 food pantries nationwide are heartwarming — rather than evidence of our failed income-support system. Legislators on TV say that “too many people are getting food stamps.” In the Hunger Game, a Brooklyn mom overpaid by $8 a month is a scandalous fraud, while 1,400,000 Texans who are eligible for food stamps and don’t receive them is a minor glitch that needs no correction.

The Hunger Game includes excessive paperwork requirements, requirements New York State Commissioner of Social Services Elizabeth Berlin has called “onerous.” Kids are eating ramen noodles while legislators head home to a full meal after a tiring day of legislating childhood misery and illness. Like in 2011, when the Farm Bill was up for re-authorization. The Farm Bill decides how much money schools can be reimbursed for meals. People worried about children asked Congress to raise the per-meal funding, so that schools could afford more nutritious food. Called the Child Nutrition Act, if decently funded, it could have added a few dollars per meal to school lunch budgets so kids could eat more green vegetables and fruits.

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