My Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner

Right on the heels of my screed against billionaire tax cheats (and wanna-be billionaires who are politicians who also cheat the country they claim to serve out of tax dollars), I figuratively picked up my Washington Post, only to read this headline: “Federal judge strikes down plan to slash food stamps for 700,000 unemployed Americans.”

The term “food security” means that you are able to go about your day without worrying about where your next meal is coming from. Well, you might worry, in the sense of deciding where you want to eat or what specifically you might want to eat, but for people like me tasked with this decision, it’s a far away place from those who aren’t wondering what’s for dinner, but whether there will be dinner at all.

Apparently this is too far away a place for the likes of the current administration, filled with millionaires, billionaires and billionaire-wannabes. When you have the option of dialing up fast-food restaurants to cater to your football-playing guests, apparently it’s just way too much trouble to imagine there are people out there who don’t have that option.

And if there are food-insecure people, it’s obviously because they’re lazy and not willing to work as hard as people who have inherited every penny they own. You know, people who can barely change the TV channel, never mind actually reading the briefing reports they are handed. That sort of hard work.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that in 2019, in the richest country in the world, at least 10.5 percent of the population knew food insecurity for at least some portion of the year.

So if you walked into a classroom of 20 random students, there’s a chance that two or more of them will be going home without knowing if there will be dinner. According to a CBS News report in September, that number might be as high as 1 in every three children, meaning that seven of the kids in that random class could be going hungry.

Hopefully they at least received breakfast and lunch through the school, assuming school is in session. Every day that most students consider a good day — the fall breaks, the teacher conferences, the in-services, the holidays — might instead to some students and their parents mean the entire family goes hungry.

It’s hard to do anything when you’re hungry. It’s difficult to concentrate, or motivate, or take on basic tasks. But in an administration where staff members’ wealth numbers in Carl Sagan’s “billions and billions,” and with a party in power whose focus is always on corporate welfare and making sure wealthy people don’t pay a dime more than their “fair” share, no one else deserves a hand-out.

Certainly not the people who make the shameful national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Obviously, if these folks made better choices they would have been born into families with wealth to hand down.

It’s clear, then: these people must work before they get a scrap of food from their government. And if they don’t, then off with them. (This country is doing that in several particularly impoverished states with health care as well.)

At least, that was the plan. Starting last December, the USDA — the same agency that reports that 10 percent of the richest country went hungry for at least some portion of last year — was going to revoke Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits for adults who weren’t working.

Which goes back to that “lazy, shiftless” vision we hold of People Without Money. If people aren’t working, it’s obviously because they don’t want to be, as my landlord explained to me a couple of weeks ago when complaining about how many people aren’t working because they can get so much more money on unemployment. My attempts to point out that the enhanced unemployment benefits ended in August were simply wasted breath.

Between December and now, as you may possibly have heard, the world ran into a little virus problem, and now there are a lot more unemployed people. I believe there are about to be a lot more, since all of Washington is more interested in gamesmanship and figuring what will best keep their own employment prospects alive than in helping people, and that is likely to lead to more hunger.

I saw one woman on TV, unemployed due to the virus, who said she tries to make sure there’s food for her daughter. “I eat once a day,” she reported.

The richest country in the world, and you have 10 percent (or more, now — that was the 2019 number) of all people and perhaps 33 percent of all children who may be living like that woman. And we have a government that wants to ensure you are working before you’re allowed to eat. Which is only the first of three plans the administration has for ramping down SNAP benefits.

Are there people who take advantage of welfare systems? I’m sure there are. Some of them are called “corporations,” some giants of which pay no taxes at all, and some of them are called “presidents” who take advantage of tax-law loopholes and create their own welfare (check the CARES Act to see how real estate developers benefited) and pay no more than $1,500 in taxes over a 15-year period.

The backstop here is federal Judge Beryl Howell, who rendered a 61-page judgment on this plan that was “scathing,” according to the Washington Post. This plan, she wrote, “Radically and abruptly alters decades of regulatory practice, leaving States scrambling and exponentially increasing food insecurity for tens of thousands of Americans.”

She used her modifiers to good effect, noting the USDA “has been icily silent about how many [adults] would have been denied SNAP benefits had the changes sought . . . been in effect while the pandemic rapidly spread across the country.” Her conclusion: the USDA’s “utter failure to address the issue renders the agency action arbitrary and capricious.”

For the moment, then, we’re back to only — only! — 10 percent of the country (and 33 percent of the kids) not knowing where their next non-school-supplied meal might be coming from.

Let’s let the other nine out of 10 of us think about that as we’re deciding what to have for dinner tonight. And maybe then think about donating to your local food pantry — although I imagine voting is a better long-term strategy.

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