By Najja Kossally
Published Aug 14, 2011 10:21 PM
Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of the Jacob K. Javits Federal Office Building here on Aug. 5 to protest cuts of $127 billion to food stamps and the Women, Infants and Children program. Congress mandated the cuts in April, to extend from 2012 to 2021.
This was the first protest of the recently organized Food Is a Right Campaign, which has been in the streets gathering petitions against food stamp cuts for several weeks. Many of the protesters were young. Several organizations were represented at the demonstration, including the CUNY Student Movement, Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), South Bronx Community Supported Agriculture, South Bronx Community Congress and Picture the Homeless.
“We are not represented in Congress,” said Gavrielle Gemma, an organizer of Food Is a Right, commenting on the disconnect between the legislators and the working class and the need for a grass-roots movement. She called for Food Is A Right committees in every organization and union and on every block to begin exposing the attack on the food stamp program. Gemma pointed out the corporate media’s near complete silence on the cuts.
Larry Holmes, of the Bail Out the People Movement, also criticized corporate media’s partiality to finance capital, arguing, “We don’t need the stock market to drop 500 points to let us know it’s a depression.” Holmes argued that current levels of high unemployment made cutting food stamps criminal.
Other speakers included Tanaka Nyemba of the CUNY Student Movement. Many city college students, especially women, receive food stamps and are particularly vulnerable to cuts due to recent tuition hikes. Tanaka dismissed the pettiness and venality of Congress and posited access to food as a basic human right, not subject to partisan politics.
Organizer Kendall Jackman, of Picture the Homeless, said about Congress, “They have made it clear they do not care whether we live or die. We have no intention of dying. We are going to fight with everything we have. We will succeed!”
Food stamps needed more than ever
Representative Paul Ryan proposed the $127 billion cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new official name for food stamps. Ryan’s plan transforms SNAP from an entitlement program into block grants to the states. Formerly, any person eligible for food stamps could receive them. Now, block grants will allow states to reduce the amount allocated to SNAP recipients due to budgetary constraints.
Block grants will be funded at 80 percent of current SNAP spending. A cap on food stamp spending is particularly egregious now, since the number of people receiving food stamps in this country has been steadily growing for the last 37 months. The Department of Agriculture estimates that 45.8 million people are now receiving food stamps.
The Food Is a Right Campaign is demanding zero cuts to SNAP, with a cost-of-living increase on the allowances currently issued to recipients, no cuts to funding for soup kitchens and food pantries, and food stamps for all, including immigrants.
The food stamp program is one of the most successful entitlement programs to emerge from the New Deal and the Great Society. SNAP recipients redeem their benefits immediately and almost entirely; the USDA estimates that every $1 spent on food stamps boosts the economy by $1.79.
Even Moody’s, one of the big-three credit rating agencies which had a hand in causing the current recession and is no friend to the working class, estimates that a dollar spent on food stamps boosts the economy by $1.72. Food stamps should make sense even to a capitalist.
However, the recent rightward turn of the ruling capitalist class disregards sense in favor of forcing the working class to bear the cost of the recession, even if cutting social programs deepens the crisis.
While Congress hoodwinks the public by alleging there’s an immediate need to lower the deficit, the Food Is a Right Campaign speaks a different language than that of Wall Street. For the grass-roots organizers, food stamps do not constitute an entitlement program that is either economically viable or unviable. Rather, access to food is a basic right of every human being.