I don’t know what to make of this comment from David Obey about the Obama administration’s suggestion that funding for Obama’s Race to the Top educational initiatives be taken from food stamp funds:
The secretary of education [Arne Duncan] is whining about the fact he only got 85 percent of the money he wanted .… [W]hen we needed money, we committed the cardinal sin of treating him like any other mere mortal. We were giving them over $10 billion in money to help keep teachers on the job, plus another $5 billion for Pell, so he was getting $15 billion for the programs he says he cares about, and it was costing him $500 million [in reductions to the Race to the Top program]. Now that’s a pretty damn good deal. So as far as I’m concerned, the secretary of education should have been happy as hell. He should have taken that deal and smiled like a Cheshire cat. He’s got more walking around money than every other cabinet secretary put together.
We were told we have to offset every damn dime of [new teacher spending]. Well, it ain’t easy to find offsets, and with all due respect to the administration their first suggestion for offsets was to cut food stamps. Now they were careful not to make an official budget request, because they didn’t want to take the political heat for it, but that was the first trial balloon they sent down here. …Their line of argument was, well, the cost of food relative to what we thought it would be has come down, so people on food stamps are getting a pretty good deal in comparison to what we thought they were going to get. Well isn’t that nice. Some poor bastard is going to get a break for a change.
Hmmm. I don’t know where the White House is shopping but here in NJ peaches are still retailing for $1.99/lb. Yep. It seems that when gas prices spiked a couple of years ago at $4.00/gal, grocery stores raised prices accordingly and now we have a “new normal”. It’s not nearly as bad as it is in Maui where my older daughter lives where a couple of bags of groceries can easily cost $100 but it’s still pretty bad. I marvel at the cost of a single dinner.
Around here, the layoffs are thick and furious. One minute, you’re making enough to pay your mortgage and property taxes, the next, you’re facing foreclosure as soon as the severance bennies run out. One of the obvious solutions is to not live in NJ. Or New York, where unemployment benefits peak at something like $450/week. Now, that might seem generous if you live in Alabama but that money won’t even pay the rent around here for a single month. Imagine if you have hungry kids?
There’s no shame in accepting food stamps. Unemployed people paid for them throughout their working careers. When it’s time to collect, they need to be able to pay the going rate for food in their area. That’s an insurance policy against malnutrition. And no Race to the Top scheme is going to work in a state where children are too hungry to think.
And while the House Education and Labor Committees just approved a bill that would help improve our school lunch program, advocates say the measly sums appropriated for it will not be enough unless a convincing case can be made on the House floor during debate:
“From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we’ve ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs,” says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. “The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won’t be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it’s important enough.”
For those too young to remember, Ronald Reagan’s administration tried something similar in the early 80’s during another severe recession. It tried to sut money from the school lunch program and reclassify ketchup as a vegetable. That didn’t go over too well with the public, even among those who thought there was a cadillac driving welfare queen behind every application for a free lunch. You do not skimp when it comes to the nutritional needs of children. That kind of callous indifference will definitely get you pilloried by the public, which may be Obey’s intent. We can read a lot of political subtext into this little ditty.
In the meantime, food insecurity is a big problem in this Great Recession. If you have the means, remember that there are a lot of unlucky duckies who still can’t find work and feed their kids. You can help by donating to Feeding America.
Filed under: General | Tagged: Arne Duncan, David Obey, Feeding America, Food insecurity, Food Stamps, ketchup, obama administration, peaches, Race to the Top, Ronald Reagan, unemployment | 117 Comments »