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With food stamp cuts, GOP turns its back on the hungry

By Paul Begala, CNN Contributor
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 2026 GMT (0426 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala: As we gorge at Thanksgiving, GOP House wants to cut food stamps for millions
  • He says SNAP gives a small amount of money to the very poor; comes out to $1.50 a meal
  • GOP Rep. Fincher, who voted to cut, got $3.48 million in farm taxpayer subsidies, he says
  • Begala: Economists say food stamps spur economic growth; GOP should restore them

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

(CNN) -- I love Thanksgiving. I love everything about it: gathering three generations around the table, pausing for a moment with heads bowed to thank God for our abundant blessings, carrying a tradition across the centuries, watching my beloved Texas Longhorns play football. I even love clanging the pots and scraping the plates afterward. And I especially love the eating. We are traditionalists in my family, so it's turkey and stuffing, and three kinds of pie.

I am hoping this year to add one more item to the menu: a small serving of conscience. For as we gorge ourselves, Congress is contemplating drastic cuts in food aid for the least of our brethren. Food stamps, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance for the Poor, or SNAP, help poor people eat -- simple as that.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

And I mean poor. The average SNAP household has a gross income of just $744 per month. I'll bet House Speaker John Boehner spends more than that each month just on cigs and merlot. Requirements to receive food stamps have become so tight that Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, estimates that only 57% of food-insecure Americans are even eligible for food stamps. Can you imagine being too poor to afford food, but too "rich" to qualify for food stamps?

Eatocracy Opinion: SNAP Isn't about a free lunch

So benefits under the SNAP program go to the poorest of the poor -- and they're not exactly living high on the hog off food stamps, either. The average monthly SNAP benefit per person is $133.85, or less than $1.50 per person, per meal. A buck-fifty per meal doesn't go far. By the third week of the month, most people's benefits have already run out.

And yet even that miserly amount is too generous for some Republican politicians. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee, has likened food aid for the poor to robbery, telling a gathering of his fellow Tennesseans, "The role of citizens, of Christians, of humanity is to take care of each other, but not for Washington to steal money from those in the country and give to others in the country."

Eatocracy: How do you stretch your food dollars?

47M+ brace for food stamp program cuts
Speier slams GOP slashing food stamps

I am sure Fincher is a good man, but I prefer to listen to Jesus on the role of Christians. After all, he said, "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink." Fincher, like nearly all House Republicans, voted to cut SNAP by $40 billion over ten years. Those cuts would kick 3.8 million Americans off food stamps and end subsidized school lunches for 210,000 hungry children. Some 170,000 of the people who will be kicked off food stamps are veterans -- an especially heartless way to treat those who have worn the uniform.

Here's the beauty part: While literally taking food out of the mouths of the hungriest Americans, the House GOP farm bill protects corporate welfare, in the form of subsidized crop insurance (among other programs). Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, somehow manages to talk about this without her head exploding -- which means she has greater self-control than I do.

"Republicans are continuing to protect crop insurance subsidies to some of the wealthiest Americans and at the same time trying to cut the very program that helps keep children, seniors, and disabled individuals out of hunger, the Food Stamp Program," she said. "Unlike food stamps, crop insurance subsidies are not subject to means testing or payment limits. Some farms annually collect more than $1 million in crop insurance."

Eatocracy: How to feed your family from a food bank

DeLauro is too polite to mention that one of the well-to-do welfare recipients is her colleague, Fincher. Fincher has received $3.48 million in taxpayer subsidies for his Tennessee farm, including $70,000 in 2012 alone. By contrast, the average Tennessee food stamp recipient gets $1,586.40 per year.

Mark Zandi of Moody's was an economic adviser to the GOP presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. He studied the effect of various government spending to stimulate the economy. Guess what he said gives us the most bang for the buck -- the single best expenditure we can make to stimulate economic growth? (Drumstick roll, please.) That's right -- food stamps. For every dollar we spend on SNAP, Zandi said, $1.73 surges through the economy: Farmers make more money, truckers haul more food, grocers hire more cashiers. Oh, and hungry people get a meal. It's a win-win-win.

So this Thanksgiving I will once again thank God for my family, my freedom, and my food. And pray a little extra for the Republican politicians to help their fellow Americans -- and our economy -- by supporting food stamps.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.

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