Gary Zuckett: Hunger games in Congress
Sometimes the goings on in Washington seem like a big game. But the stakes in these political contests are literally life and death for millions of Americans who are daily struggling to meet basic needs. The latest example of Washington politicians playing games with people's lives is the move by Republicans in Congress to eliminate six million Americans from basic food assistance, the SNAP program known as food stamps.
This cut would deny food stamps to 4 million jobless Americans, but ignores a big problem: There are three Americans looking for work for every job available. SNAP already requires recipients to be looking for work if they're able, or be in work training. But since there aren't enough jobs to go around, should that eliminate putting food on families' tables?
Leadership in the House would also throw out two million low-income Americans from SNAP who are struggling to cover other high costs of living. This includes families with high housing or childcare costs and seniors with costly housing or medical bills.
According to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, SNAP helps put food on the table for one in five West Virginians. Nearly two-fifths of them are children. About one-fifth have disabilities or are seniors. A quarter of adults getting Food Stamps are raising children. How many will go hungry from this proposed "elimination"?
While real hunger is no game, corporate lobbyists continue to game the system in Washington, leveraging campaign contributions into tax breaks while big corporations play accounting games to shirk their responsibility to pay taxes.
A leading example is how corporations got around a law meant to limit tax deductions for their CEOs to $1 million a year, with accounting tricks that morphed pay into stock options. As a result, corporations deducted more than $30 billion in multi-millionaire executive pay from 2007 to 2010 alone.
Closing just this one loophole would bring in $50 billion in revenues over the next 10 years, which is $10 billion more than the $40 billion in reduced spending from the Republican proposal to cut food assistance. Feeding families or padding corporate profits, which one should we choose to eliminate?
The contrast between SNAP vs. tax breaks for CEOs says a lot about what members of Congress think will get our sluggish economy moving. SNAP benefits - skimpy at $1.40 per meal - are immediately spent in our neighborhood supermarkets. This keeps local people working and our West Virginia economy moving. In fact, nearly every dollar in low-income households are spent on the basics, which is why measures like raising the minimum wage boost our economy.
CEOs don't spend their multi-millions in bonuses in our communities. They'll take it to Wall Street to make money wherever in the world the returns are highest. In the same way, the tax breaks that the companies get from the CEO pay loophole will mean more cash for companies to hoard or use to ship our jobs overseas. Allowing tax deductions for companies that ship jobs and profits overseas is yet another loophole that Congress isn't willing to close. Our tax system is as filled with this type of corporate largess as a block of Swiss cheese is filled with holes.
The next Hunger Games film is about to open this month, around the same time House Republicans are expected approve the elimination of six million Americans -- children, parents, seniors, veterans -- from getting the food they need to survive.
While corporations continue to profit from gaming our tax system, for families the threat of hunger this is not a game.
Let's keep the odds in the families favor and tell Congress to reject this heartless elimination of food for the hungry.
@tag:Zuckett is executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group.