Archive | October 2013

Wisconsin’s Hungry to get Hungrier, Starting Tomorrow!

Image: Activists Protest House Farm Bill Plan To Cut Food Assistance Program

No this is not a Halloween joke. It’s harsh reality for the families and individuals in Wisconsin, and other U.S. states, who presently rely on federal food stamps for their daily living. Beginning November 1, nearly 900,000 Wisconsinites will see cuts to their monthly food stamp benefits. Food stamps help people with limited money buy the food they need for good health. Income eligibility for food stamps is based on household size and monthly gross and net income, relative to the federal poverty level. The poverty level ranges from $958 to $1,963, per month, for an individual to a family of four living in Wisconsin.

Persons and families who count on food stamp (called food shares in Wisconsin)  for their monthly food budget are getting an unwanted  trick tomorrow.  What started as a temporary increase in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2009  as an element of the federal stimulus act ends tomorrow.

After today, 860,000 people in Wisconsin will get considerably less money to buy food.  A family of three loses $29 in monthly shares. In total, the Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, calculates that Wisconsin families now getting food shares will receive $89 million less in 2014 ,

SNAP is supposedly our country’s anti-hunger program, designed to help poor people – most of them children, disabled or elderly – buy nourishable food. Enrollment has doubled since 2004 and the program’s cost has nearly tripled. Aside from a less than adequate state and federal economy the last few years, another big reason for the increase in number of people who depend on the SNAP program is no doubt due to the federal government’s failure to raise the minimum hourly wage, which remains at $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009.  A person who works for $7.25 an hour (2080 hours/yr.) and provides for a family of two falls below the poverty level.  According to a recent study, more than half of all employees working in the fast food industry in the country rely on food stamps. Beginning tomorrow, one of every seven Americans,or 47.6 million people (15% of U.S. population) will get less food starting when the $5 billion cut in food stamps takes effect.

Congress has the power to halt the cutback but is not likely to do so at a time when Republicans, lead by Rep Paul Ryan, are calling for even more drastic cuts to food stamps. Other changes to Food Share in Wisconsin are planned to take place  July 2014 when the state implements its work or training requirement. Exemptions like age, pregnancy and ability would prevent some from having to work to receive benefits. Of course many of those not exempted from working are undoubtedly already working but in low paying jobs. Many states (18) and Washington D.C. have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage (Oregon and Washington have their minimum wage set at $8.95 and $9.19, respectively); however, Wisconsin uses the federal hourly work minimum of $7.25.

Meanwhile, just to show where Wisconsin politicians’ priorities lie these days, when a highway bridge developed a sag requiring closure on September 25th this year ,state transportation officials wasted no time and called for an “aggressive” target date to have the bridge opened back up to traffic – January 17, 2014 – at a total project cost of $15 million. (The Wisconsin State Journal reported today that the contract to make the repairs has already been issued to a Waukesha construction company.) And of course the Wisconsin State Legislature wasted no time passing Governor Scott Walker’s $100 million property tax subsidy this month (6 days and virtually no time for public comment) , which benefits the state’s wealthiest and business property owners the most.

The federal food stamp program as a whole is facing potentially devastating cuts in the coming years if House of Representative Republicans get their way. The House approved legislation last month that would cut $39 billion in funds over the next decade for food stamp programs. The The Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade. Negotiators in the Senate and House of Representatives are meeting beginning this week to resolve their differences in a long-delayed farm bill.