Corporate lobbyists get what they want as Congress cuts both food stamps and extended unemployment benefits.
Congress delivered a one-two punch to workers and poor people during the
first week of February. First, both houses passed a farm bill that rewards agribusiness while reducing food stamp benefits for many low-income households. Then, the Senate voted to deny federal funds to extend unemployment benefits. Both measures will push the working class down even further.
These terrible cutbacks have come directly from the capitalist class. They are part of the wealthiest 1%’s war against the workers and low-income communities, as the bosses push to shrink government services in order to transfer more money to Wall Street, the big banks and corporate owners.
This all-out campaign to take from the poor and give to the rich comes as millions of people are still suffering in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Joblessness, involuntary part-time work and low wages are rife throughout the U.S. Safety-net programs, especially unemployment insurance and food stamp benefits, have been vital for the survival of many. Slashing these services will be disastrous, causing more homelessness and hunger.
These programs need more funding, not less.
Both houses — the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate — voted for the pro-agribusiness Agriculture Act of 2014. It allocates $956.4 billion over a decade, with projected savings of $16.6 billion. Food stamp benefits are reduced by $8.6 billion, while $4 billion are cut from conservation programs. Crop insurance subsidies replace crop subsidies to farmers.
The rich get richer …
This measure was the sixth most-lobbied congressional bill in 2013, said the Center for Responsive Politics. The group reported, “At least 350 companies and organizations, including Monsanto Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Dean Foods Co., registered as lobbyists in 2013 to work on the Senate bill, spending $150 million.” (Feb. 4)
The Environmental Working Group criticized the bill for creating “new, expanded and largely unlimited crop insurance subsidies that will flow predominantly to the largest and most successful farms.” The group decried this “blatant example of corporate welfare … at the expense of family farms, the environment and [the] hungriest.” (Feb. 5)
The biggest farm companies and Wall Street firms will be the primary beneficiaries, asserted Think Progress: “The 18 insurance companies that participate in the federal crop insurance program banked $10 billion in profit over the past decade.” (Jan. 3)
The final bill omitted measures that would have required public reporting of large federal crop insurance payouts and their recipients and that would have limited premium subsidies for the richest farmers. Private crop insurance companies won big, with a provision locking in Agriculture Department payments to them over the life of the bill; insurance costs are non-negotiable.
Even a leading establishment newspaper, the Feb. 4 Washington Post, editorialized, “This is a bill of, by and for the agriculture lobby.”
John Boyd, president of the Black Farmers Association, explained in a Feb. 3 Huffington Post column that he and many other farmers and advocates had worked very hard on the farm bill, with little effect: “I wanted to see more reform for federal crop insurance for minority farmers. The larger farmers will receive the most help while small and minority farmers will receive little to no relief under the federal crop insurance program. … The focus [in Congress] is on serving a few large-scale farms and corporate farms.”
Agribusiness donations to Congress members who crafted the farm bill have been generous. They contributed $744,000 to the 2012 election campaign of Frank D. Lucas, the Republican chair of the House Agriculture Committee. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat and chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who is credited with writing the legislation, received $346,000 from the crop production industry — more than any other senator.
The ultra-right billionaire Koch brothers did quite well. Koch Industries pressured Congress heavily on the bill and got favors in return. The bill allots $881 million in mandatory funding to produce biomass energy. The Koch brothers’ timber subsidiary Georgia-Pacific has already received such government subsidies in the past. (thenation.com, Feb. 5) The ezine reported this company and others lobbied and won a favorable amendment which exempts forestry sites that generate pesticide and other chemical runoff from regulation, under the industrial pollution provisions of the Clean Water Act.
… as millions get hungrier
Lobbying Congress was accompanied by a campaign of vicious racist and anti-poor vitriol leveled by the corporate-led right-wingers against the food stamp program and its recipients. Boyd, of the Black Farmers Association, recalled, “Conservative Republicans in the House repeatedly helped to defeat numerous versions of the bill, pushing for a 5 percent or greater reduction to food stamps.”
The Koch brothers aggressively campaigned, including through their Americans for Prosperity, to drastically slash food stamp benefits.
The Republicans pushed to slash $40 billion from the program over 10 years, and the Democrats countered with a $4 billion-cutback offer. The argument was over how much to reduce food benefits — not whether to do so. The final figure was $8.6 billion.
Congress also tacked on another seemingly minor measure, but cruel nevertheless, that bars the Agriculture Department from paying for ads to promote food stamp benefits or for programs geared to enroll beneficiaries.
The upshot is that President Barack Obama signed the legislation on Feb. 7. He could have vetoed the bill and stopped the reduction in food stamp funding.
What is the human toll of this inhumane “compromise”? Monthly nutrition benefits will be reduced by $90 to each of 850,000 households in 15 states and the District of Columbia for 10 years. Three-fourths of these households include a senior, child or person with disabilities; nearly all have incomes at or below the poverty line. By 2024, 3.2 billion meals will be lost.
These cutbacks come on top of the devastating benefit reduction for all 47 million food stamp recipients last November. Food pantries are already struggling to meet the ensuing high demand. Hospitals are reporting more diet-related health emergencies in low-income communities, due to inadequate food benefits.
In addition to this crisis, the failure of the Senate to extend emergency unemployment benefits has already affected 1.7 million long-term jobless workers who were counting on another 28 weeks of benefits, says the Economic Policy Institute. After having used up their state benefits, these workers still cannot find jobs.
Another 2 million workers will be affected this year by the cutoff, as 41 states plus the District of Columbia have high rates of long-term jobless workers.
The United States is the richest country in the world, home to Wall Street and monstrously wealthy global banks and corporations. Yet the capitalist “jobless recovery” means that while the rich continue to get obscenely richer, millions of people must struggle to survive. Many have relied on crucial governmental assistance that they are now losing.
These programs came about because workers and community activists fought for them over decades. With the capitalist class and its politicians hell-bent on cutting them down to nothing, the people have nowhere to go but the streets to win them back.
The one thing the ruling class does not have is the might of the multinational working class. A determined, united movement of both advocates and activists can push back these reactionary laws and cutbacks.