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Rick Wilson: Food benefits too generous? Try this per diem (Gazette)

Potter Stewart served as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1958 to 1981. He had some interesting things to say about checks and balances, the importance of a free press and the need for an enlightened citizenry.

However, he’s probably best remembered for his statement on how to identify obscenity. While acknowledging that it’s difficult to define in exact terms, he said “I know it when I see it ... .”

One place I’ve seen it lately has been in Washington, where the same House of Representatives majority that passed $1.5 trillion in tax cuts aimed mostly at rich people and corporations advanced a version of the Farm Bill that would cut basic food aid to 1.2 million Americans and slash benefits by around $17 billion.

The proposed cuts would come from restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that would affect families, children, low-wage workers, veterans, as well as people recovering from addictions.

Fortunately, the Farm Bill failed by a margin of 213 to 198, no thanks to West Virginia’s delegation. Unfortunately, it’s not over and we can anticipate further attacks on basic food security for vulnerable Americans.

Some of these attacks have already taken place at the state level. House Bill 4001, which passed the Legislature and was signed by the governor earlier this year, is likely to increase hunger without promoting employment. The bill takes a policy of time limits that failed in the nine counties with the best employment and spreads the misery statewide.

Apparently, the people who voted for it think living on a $4-a-day food budget is too high on the hog.

Just to put things into perspective, I thought a little social math might be in order here. Excuse me while I whip out the calculator:

  • According to the West Virginia Code, legislators are eligible for a per diem of $131 per day during the regular session. Someone trying to survive on SNAP benefits would have to try to eat for over a month on that.
  • Another good contrast is to consider how long someone on SNAP would have to live for the cost of one fancy meal. Let’s say it’s The Greenbrier. Thanks to the power of the interwebs, I found a menu and did the math: one bottle red wine, mid-range, $48; first course bisque, $9; lamb shank entrée, $49; chocolate soufflé dessert, $14; dessert wine, $17; cappuccino, $5.

That comes to $157. If you throw in a 20 percent tip of $31.40, the total is 188.40. People getting by on SNAP would have to feed themselves for 47 days on that.

That’s a week longer than the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. Come to think of it, I believe he had a thing or two to say about feeding the hungry.

(For the record, I don’t have anything against good food or the finer things in life. I just wish they were a bit more broadly shared. And I don’t mind people who can afford a feast — as long as they don’t try to take food away from those who can’t.)

  • Here’s one more. The richest 1 percent of West Virginians are going to get a $25,000 tax cut due to recent federal legislation. That’s an annual food budget for 17 people on SNAP. Or, at current benefit levels, someone on SNAP would have to try to eat for a little over 17 years on that. As in from now until the year 2035.

Those lucky ducks on SNAP.

I only wish that those who want to take away food from people getting by on less than the cost of a fancy cup of coffee would actually try living on that much. It might be good medicine.

As Shakespeare put it in “King Lear,” “Take physic, pomp; Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel, That thou mayst shake the superflux to them, And show the heavens more just.”

Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Economic Justice Project, is a Gazette contributing columnist.

Funerals for Thursday, August 22, 2019

Booth, Paul - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Cummings, David - 1 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Gregor, Kathy - 5 p.m., Good Shepherd Mortuary, South Charleston.

Lore, Madge - 11 a.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans.

Sanders, Wetzel - 2 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, West Hamlin.

Stalnaker, Lillian - 11 a.m., Little Kanawha Memorial Gardens, Flatwoods.