Some Congressional Food Stamp Critics Have Their Own Safety Net

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Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md., Saturday, March 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Rep. Steve King, (R-IA), speaks at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in March. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“Since 2008, the cost of SNAP has more than doubled from $34 billion to $74 billion,” complained Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in a press release defending his vote for a $40 billion cut over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as the food stamp program. The cuts come at a time when one in seven Americans is utilizing food stamps, as unemployment remains high. As NPR reports, “the vast majority of SNAP recipients either work or are children, disabled or elderly.”

But Cramer was not fazed by these statistics, instead asking on the House floor, “When did America trade the dignity of a job for a culture of permanent dependency?”

Given his remarks in favor of Americans pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, one would think that Cramer is a pure fiscal hawk, determined to rein in government spending and make citizens take care of themselves. But the reality is that this congressman has been happy to spend enormous amounts of money on his own district in order to secure his own political future.

From 1995 until 2012, his at-large North Dakota district received $10.4 billion in agricultural subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That makes his district the single largest recipient of farm subsidies in the nation. Keep in mind that the purpose of these subsidies to make the sale of crops competitive. Without them, the recipients would lose their jobs – in other words, the subsidies, 80 percent of which go to big corporate farmers, create exactly the culture of permanent dependency that Cramer complains about. The congressman’s fourth-largest sector of campaign contributions is the crop production and basic processing industry, which has given him $133,040 to run for office.

Cramer is not alone in this hypocrisy. Many other House Republicans who have harshly condemned SNAP recipients and the benefits they receive are huge takers of agricultural subsidies. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is in a district that has been the third-largest recipient of subsidies, getting more than $9 billion since 1995. In voting for SNAP cuts this week, he ironically claimed that his “Democratic colleagues have long been for expanding the dependency class here in America.”

While the biggest proponents of SNAP cuts have been Republicans, this trade-off between agricultural subsidies and hunger assistance is unfortunately not unique to that party. For example, in May, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced an amendment to restore $4 billion in SNAP funding by cutting agricultural subsidies. It failed, netting only 26 votes. Farm-state senators such as Al Franken (D-MN) led the charge in defeating it.

But unfortunately, Big Agriculture subsidies are not the only giveaway that takes priority over food assistance to hungry Americans. The House Republicans leading the charge for major cuts to SNAP today have been advocates of, for example, subsidies for Big Oil. In 2011, the House GOP caucus voted unanimously to protect oil subsidies that cost taxpayers $4 billion per year. House Republicans have also voted unanimously to protect subsidies to for-profit colleges totaling $32 billion per year, beating back any effort to cut taxpayer financing of these educational institutions, which are yielding little in the way of results for students.

It’s also important to keep in mind that SNAP is an incredibly efficient and well-run program. Payments “that represent overpayments, underpayments or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2011.” And Moody’s Analytics estimates that for every dollar of SNAP benefits spent, $1.70 of economic activity is created – meaning that SNAP benefits actually help the economy.

Perhaps the greatest irony in the SNAP debate is how small a chunk of the federal budget it actually is. The program, which has unusually high enrollment right now due to the poor economy, only consumes 2 percent of the budget. It remains inadequate for many of its recipients, as “90 percent of SNAP benefits are redeemed by the third week of the month” and the average monthly benefit is around $1.50 per person, per meal.

Yet the program remains vulnerable to cuts, time and time again, because its recipients do not have the resources to hire powerful lobbyists or run extensive public relations campaigns. Meanwhile, Big Agribusiness, oil companies, the defense industry, for-profit colleges, drug companies and other huge takers of federal subsidies can continue to maintain their own “dependency” on federal dollars because they have the political clout to remove members of Congress who refuse to serve their needs. In an America that is increasingly economically unequal, this corruption of our politics could soon leave millions of people hungry, sick and desperate for a simple meal.

Zaid Jilani is the former communications and outreach coordinator for United Republic and the former senior reporter-blogger for ThinkProgress. His work has also appeared in outlets including Salon and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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  • Anonymous

    The next article needs to detail the elements of the farm revenue stop loss program – now there is a welfare deal for the already well off. The article should also document the %s of these subsidized crops that are exported which is large. Maybe subsidies & insurance should only apply to what stays in the country for domestic consumption either as is or as processed. No exporting flour or cookies from subsidized wheat.

  • Scobos

    What is WRONG with these people? Just more (R) self-centered, mean-spirited, evil-intended Horse DUNG. A revolution is coming. Just wait.

  • Anonymous

    The Greed and the hypocrisy of the Republican Party Members have always blamed the deficit on the poor people. 2% of the budget is food stamps, with 1.50 per meal. They need to be voted out. They have robbed us of our benefits to line their own pockets and have deceived (out right lied) to the public for way too long

  • Anonymous

    Before I even got to this “From 1995 until 2012, his at-large North Dakota district received $10.4 billion in agricultural subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That makes his district the single largest recipient of farm subsidies in the nation. Keep in mind that the purpose of these subsidies to make the sale of crops competitive. Without them, the recipients would lose their jobs – in other words, the subsidies, 80 percent of which go to big corporate farmers,” I knew it would be at the root of his behavior. Just like GOP Roy Blunt and DEM Max Baucus and their support of Monsanto et al. I keep asking why isn’t this illegal.

  • Anonymous

    Isn’t it amazing that the bill cuts $40 billion over 10 years from SNAP and the Oil subsidies cost $4 billion a year. I seem to remember something about “…robbing Peter to pay Paul…”. No problem paying for the Oil subsidy… just take it from the food stamp program.

  • Mary R McKeown

    THIS TWO FACED NUT . DON’T these people have” NO SHAME”

  • William Wilgus

    Why do you ask? Don’t you know what ‘Republican’ means?

  • Golf Dem

    The job creators are above examination. Keep them out of it. They are God’s chosen ones.

  • Erik

    Republicans don’t care if people starve/die (even their own constituents), and they don’t care if the economy tanks because of their irresponsible actions. They truly are evil.

  • medcannabis1

    This is corruption at the highest level..under any other time in American history..any politician who sold their votes to the “business interests ” that conduct was called BRIBERY!
    This is shameless conduct and a total disregard for the suffering among their constituents.
    How does this conduct by the GOP not fall under the RICO act?

  • medcannabis1

    you should be ashamed of yourself Thad for repeating Koch inspired propaganda when your neighbours and friends are suffering because of GOP positioning ..

  • DarqueSideOfTheMoon

    My Congressman, Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) is another one of these millionaire farmers who is taking subsidies but voted to deny those in NEED of food the ability to get it. SHAME ON DOUG LAMALFA!

  • methinks

    I agree, you can’t blame it on stupidity. There is no way to justify denying food to children, the elderly and disabled.

  • methinks

    they know the truth, they don’t care.

  • methinks

    the pensions are what all federal employees receive and it’s dependent on how many years they serve and how much # they earn. Do you really want to deny pensions to all federal employees to punish the 535 members of Congress? if so, what does that say about you?

  • Anonymous

    Thanks voters for sending these takers to DC. (sarcasm here)
    The people’s choice would be to feed children, even with the increase of SNAP, and cut agricultural subsidies, especially to the big corporate farmers who grow GMOs and pound the crops with dangerous chemicals like Monsanto’s Round Up.
    Let’s also have research to see if the weed killer Round Up is causing this dramatic increase in autism and asthma in children. As I recall the kissing cousin, Agent Orange was responsible for a lot of GIs’ babies with birth defects.
    Since the Monsanto Protection Act was passed, I doubt if the families could even legally sue for damages.

  • Arm of Keaau

    And I’ll bet everyone of them is a “devout Christian”. The real political party ruining our society, our government, and our nation. (_: FBI

  • Ann J Wyly

    Well, not really, when you consider they get far more for each meal than $1.50!

  • Grandma Moon

    For his own sparsely populated district.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t agree with characterizing people as “evil.” I believe it dehumanizes them and makes it easier to decide that any tactics to get rid of them would be acceptable. I would say that very many of their actions have evil effects. However, I suspect that the Republican legislators who take actions with evil effects really do believe most of their own rhetoric. Humans have this way of doing what “feels” right and rationalizing it after the fact, but believing they are taking well-reasoned action! Thus, corrupt politicians can easily have no idea that they are corrupt, and could honestly feel they are doing what is right.

  • Anonymous

    Please , Thad, tell me how many were created and what types of positions they were complete with the requirements to perform the work. I just want to be sure so I can let the Social Security recipients, poor elderly persons on SNAP and the children and poor families where to apply.

  • Anonymous

    So this is his own ‘pork barrel’ way of funding a few Big Ag/Industrial Farms for his state. Rather than look at the who country, an “I want mine” attitude, shown by way too many in Congress. Also would bet this went to or at least wonder how much of these monies went to Monsanto GMO Corn Producers??
    This is wrong on so many levels.

  • Anonymous

    With the level of “Profits” the Oil Industry makes, OIL should not be receiving 1 ‘penny’ of subsidies!

  • Anonymous

    This “”Since 2008, the cost of SNAP has more than doubled from $34 billion to $74 billion,” complained Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)”", shows how really out of touch Cramer is. Our unemployment and ‘under’ employment and working poor ate higher than ever. Wages are lower, buying power less for the average working person, poor and seniors. This is happening while Oil Big Everything Including Big Ag, Wall Street rake in the profits and ‘free monies’ from Washington DC. The rich buy new laws and regulations to support their own ends and to heck with everyone else. What is so very wrong is many in Congress, while taking a salary, health care benefits and retirement, are the take from all the BIG’s. How isn’t this criminal? Even at the Supreme Court level, with Judges Thomas and Scalia’s cozy relationships with Monsanto and the Koch Brothers. Only God knows about the rest of them but this information has been repeated over the news repeatedly.

  • Penny

    I couldn’t agree with you more! And I would like to know the answer to this question, too.