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Food Stamp Cuts Kick Americans When They're Down

By Donna Brazile CNN Contributor | 9/23/2013, 4:27 p.m.
We are in the middle of a fight to preserve the dignity and grace that makes all of us Americans. ...

Probably everyone reading this knows someone who is striving mightily, working two jobs and cutting expenses to the bone while barely making ends meet.

To be considered poor by federal standards, a family of four must make less than $23,550 a year. A person must make less than $11,490. For the unemployed and the millions who have been looking for work for six months or more, the struggle is many times harder and uglier.

Ask any worker at Starbucks, Cosi, McDonald's or Walmart, "How many jobs do you have?" and likely he or she will tell you: "Two." I know colleagues who've had breakfast at one store, and gone to lunch in another, only to find the same person waiting on them.

One young woman I heard about gets up at 4 a.m. for her first job and ends her day at 10 p.m. at her second job. The average allotment of food stamps is $133 a person a month. Let me tell you something I can pretty much bet my house on -- that woman is not using her food stamp card to buy lobsters and caviar. She's quietly going to the food pantry, checking the sales in the grocery store, spending some time at the kitchen table clipping coupons and making a serious plan to turn that box of pasta, pound of beef, and if she's lucky, some fresh fruits and vegetables, into a meal plan truly worthy of a Gucci belt.

Is there fraud? Yes. Is there some waste? Yes. But today, the food stamp program has an error rate of only 3% -- and those errors were mostly committed by the government in underpayments as well as overpayments and payments to ineligible families.

Fraud is a piece of grain compared with the millions of families who manage to put food on the table because of this program. And those few bad apples who do commit fraud are no excuse to kick the unemployed and the poor when they are engaged in a mighty battle to get themselves and their families back on their feet.

So shame on this Congress for fighting dirty during working people's hour of struggle.

Polls show Americans haven't approved much of Congress lately. But there is a way to gain favor. If this Congress wants to make cuts, why not look at the Pentagon, notorious for waste? Or check out the Department of Agriculture, which made about $28 million in inappropriate farm assistance payments, according to a compilation of government waste reported in Business Insider.

Or perhaps lawmakers could start with themselves? Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, tried to shame her colleagues into cutting less from the food stamp program (called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

Speaking of representatives who would vote to take food from America's tables, she said, "Some of these same members travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business. They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar."

Speier talked about 20 members of Congress who traveled to Ireland and got a daily food allowance of $166. The average amount a family member gets on food stamps is less than $4 a day.