Protest speaks for 50 million people: ‘Don’t cut food stamps!’
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
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,
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.
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