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by Anthony Jerrod

It seems like the “least of these” in our nation struggle more and more each day.  And, just when it appears that certain yokes have been broken in their lives, newfound injustices and chains manifest to prevent them from escaping the powerful grip of poverty.

Last night, when I learned that the House voted against controversial proposals to defund or truncate funding for certain programs for the poor, there was a brief moment of jubilation.  After assessing this temporary legislative victory, I begin to think about why certain lawmakers in the House of Representatives would want to cut more than $800 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), $38 million from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and $63 million from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).  But, in the same bill, these same representatives did not see a problem with prospective amendments to appropriate funding for azaleas at the National Arboretum and wolf control.

Certainly, fiscal responsibility and significant reduction of our nation’s debt are warranted.  But, repairing the nation’s budget woes should not include proposals that could adversely impact long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society.  Of course, certain critics have expressed strong sentiments such as, “The WIC  just encourages lazy people to have a lot of children and the middle class tax payer to flip the bill,” “Programs like the WIC, CSFP and TEFAP serve no purpose,” and “Sorry Grandma, you just won’t be able to eat.”  I find such callous statements to be devoid of wisdom, love and compassion.

As with any government-based program, there will be certain individuals who engage in fraudulent actions or who take advantage of the system; however, these people should not result in plans to disintegrate programs that help those who are genuinely in need of such assistance.

The WIC program “provides healthy foods like milk, eggs and infant formula to about 9 million poor mothers and pregnant women and their children.”   Of the 9 million individuals, sixty percent are kids between the ages of one and four years. Another 18 percent are newborns and infants not yet a year old. The remaining 20 percent of WIC beneficiaries are pregnant and postpartum women.  To qualify for this assistance that average roughly $41 per month, recipients’ income must be at or below 185 percent of the poverty line.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the proposed cuts would have ended assistance to 350,000 low-income and children.

The CSFP provides food assistance to 600,000 low-income families every month, 96 percent of whom are seniors with incomes less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line (approximately $14,000 for a senior living alone). For many of these seniors, CSFP may be the only nutrition assistance program readily accessible to them.  Feeding America estimated that the amendments relative to this program would have resulted in more than 81,000 low-income seniors immediately being dropped.

The TEFAP serves over 100,000 households representing over 300,000 people each month.  The proposed cuts would have hurt local food banks and networks that were already struggling.

Although the controversial amendments were ultimately rejected, it is very interesting and hypocritical to see congressional leaders who repeatedly voted for tax cuts for the rich and corporate welfare subsidies for Big Oil companies devise plans to decrease spending on programs that put food on the tables of everyday people that are most in need.  Are the upkeep of azaleas and the control of wolves more important than people who are hurting and oppressed?  It seems like priorities among certain lawmakers are severely distorted.

Anthony Jerrod is a bestselling author, speaker, and public policy expert.

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