Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Food stamp cuts a cruel proposal

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
September 23, 2013 -- Updated 1946 GMT (0346 HKT)
A girl pays for her mom's groceries with a food stamp token at a market in New York's Union Square last week.
A girl pays for her mom's groceries with a food stamp token at a market in New York's Union Square last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Americans are generous and help people who are down on their luck
  • Brazile: Lawmakers will take food from poor Americans by cutting food stamps
  • Half of American live in or near poverty, she says, and food stamps help stave off hunger
  • Lawmakers should cut their own lavish expense accounts for steak and wine, she says

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pot in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- We are in the middle of a fight to preserve the dignity and grace that makes all of us Americans. We have big hearts and great souls. I know. I have seen them, felt them and watched them in wonder when my family was lost and unreachable in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I cried, worrying for those I loved, heartbroken by what happened to our beloved Louisiana. And in the middle of that tough moment, the decency of people shone through in e-mails, phone calls and in person. Everybody was saying the same thing: "How can I help?"

This is what we do in times of struggle. We offer our hand and our love to pull someone up who's been knocked down by hard times and despair. It's just a fundamental rule in life and in any fight; you don't kick people when they're down.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

But for some reason, this principle has been lost on the 217 members of the House of Representatives who decided to lace up some combat boots with rough, crushing soles to kick and kick again the 48 million Americans who count on food stamps.

I am not going to mince words. When the House voted to cut $40 billion to the food stamp program over the next 10 years, that wasn't an example of government tightening its belt or making tough choices. That vote wasn't a philosophy or an ideology about governing. Pure and simple, it was a heartless act. It was cruel. It was kicking millions of our families, neighbors and friends when they are down. And the people who work for a living in this country are down.

Let's take a walk through the facts of what's happened to them during the Great Recession and this nonrecovery of the economy.

The median family net worth dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010, according to the Federal Reserve. It gets worse. Median family income fell from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010. (These are the latest available figures).

"The Fed (Federal Reserve) found that middle-class families had sustained the largest percentage losses in both wealth and income during the crisis, limiting their ability and willingness to spend," according to The New York Times.

For 30 years, wages have flat-lined or declined for most workers, particularly in the past 10 years, as low-paying jobs replace middle-income paying jobs. In 2009, only half of the country had any assets, and those numbers have gotten worse during the last three years.

Speier slams GOP over food stamp cuts
Booker: Living on food stamps hard
Feds crack down on food stamp fraud

And here's the kicker. Today -- based on wage levels -- half of Americans live in poverty or near poverty. The gap between the well-to-do and everybody else is widening alarmingly.

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.

And The Des Moines Register reported that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, received $3,588 in taxpayer funds for both food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. The Register urged King to try the "SNAP Challenge" and live on $4 a day. He could even try it in Russia.

Yet our representatives, one after the other, mostly Republicans, stepped onto the House floor to speak and vote in the name of saving money for the taxpayer. They went after the poor, the unemployed, the single mom, the single dad, the grandparents -- all those people who are trying to make it work.

Well, they didn't just do wrong; they are wrong. I urge the Senate to restore every single dime to the food stamp program. I applaud the president for saying that he'll veto these cuts.

We're lacing up our shoes, too, but we're going to fight these merciless cuts with the golden rule. You know why? "Do unto others" trumps "kick 'em when they're down" every time. The American people are decent and fair. It's time to stand tall for this essential program for millions. It's time and our might will make this right.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT