Editorial: Hunger is not a political game

Published 9:29 am Monday, September 23, 2013

No one wants the federal government to spend more than it must. But last week’s House vote to cut $4 billion from the food stamp program was an utterly misguided attempt to create budget savings — a plan that would do far more harm than good.

Hunger is one of the hidden secrets of American life. Although precise numbers are hard to come by because the problem is vastly under-reported, it is likely that at last 10 percent of Minnesotans miss at least one meal a day because they or their families can not afford enough food. And there are regions where the percentage is even higher.

Hunger is a reality for financially struggling senior citizens. It is a reality for children of families that might be labeled “working poor.” And it’s a reality for parents in those families. The Albert Lea area is not immune.

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Conservatives who attempted to cut the food stamp program this week were quick to raise the specter of people misusing food aid or who use it to buy potato chips instead of staples.

Undoubtedly some such abuses occur. But those who would really be hurt by cuts in the program are the many honest people who need and deserve help. The debate over food stamps stems from the effort to create a farm bill, or perhaps two. However, our leaders aren’t cutting subsidies for farmers despite occasional abuses, are they? The biggest pot of money in Washington goes to the Department of Defense. No, they haven’t cut that spending despite reported abuses, have they?

It is ridiculous, of course, that a nation which produces food in tremendous excess can’t manage to get that food distributed to those who need it. And it is equally ridiculous that it takes a government program to correct, at least partially, the problem. But until those twin realities change, food stamps are an important means of correcting an imbalance.

Thursday’s vote to cut food stamps will in all likelihood not produce a change because the Democrat-controlled Senate will oppose the plan. Indeed, the reality is that the entire vote was more about political grandstanding than about public policy. Still, even if the purpose was political, it was a bad idea. There are plenty of places that the government wastes money; food stamps isn’t one of them.