Monday, June 17, 2013

Arguing Against Albuquerque Journal's Editorial on SNAP

On Saturday, we posted excerpts from a great editorial from The New Mexican (Santa Fe) urging support for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The New Mexican's editorial was published on June 13, nine days after the state's other major newspaper, The Albuquerque Journal, expressed the opposite opinion.  In its June 4 editorial, The Journal argued that the expansion of SNAP was intended as a temporary measure to respond to the recent economic recession.

According to the Journal editorial, "the recession ended three years ago this month, and though the economy has been recuperating the number of people now receiving food stamps has not declined. In fact, participation in SNAP has increased more than 70 percent in the last five years and is expected to continue rising at least until 2015."

Really? One cannot truly make the argument  that New Mexico is out of the recession. On May 16, the Economic Policy Institute wrote "According to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (2013), Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in January 2013 show that over-the-year job growth (comparing January 2013 with January 2012) of 0.4 percent (3,500 jobs) placed New Mexico fourth from the bottom among all states. To return to prerecession unemployment rates, New Mexico would have to create 2,500 new jobs each month over the next three years (author’s analysis of Current Employment Statistics and Local Area Unemployment Statistics)." Read full article

Regarding the question of whether the U.S. is out of a recession, it is true that our country as a whole has regained the household wealth present before the economic turndown.  But the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis points out that"most families have recovered much less than the average amount.  Read More.

The Journal's editorial was also published a week before Feeding America released its Map the Meal Gap study for 2013, which showed that New Mexico ranked as the most food insecure state for children in the United States.  (More details to come)

The Journal editorial also misses the mark with its argument that the expansion is creating dependency. Expansion of the benefit was never intended to be permanent. Nobody is suggesting the program should be done away with or taken away from the neediest. But Congress should move to trim back spending before the expanded benefits evolve from a temporary safety net into a permanent entitlement," said the newspaper  Here is the Full Editorial (If you are not a subscriber, you can see the full piece by simply answering a few questions related to advertisers)

A study from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service shows that 3 out of 4 SNAP participants leave the program within 2 years, and half receive benefits for 10 months or fewer.  Additionally, the program was created to respond to need, and it's obvious that the need exists.

The Journal's editorial elicited outrage among many readers.  I don't know whether the Journal received any letters in support of its editorial, but the newspaper chose to publish four letters on Sunday, June 16, that criticized its stance.  Here are some excerpts from these letters:

Letter 1
Does the phrase “jobless recovery” sound familiar? It refers to our current economic situation, where employment lags behind the measure of overall activity. Another way of putting it is that the benefits of the recovery are going to the top income levels and not making their way down to the workers. In the best of recoveries, job growth tends to be the last thing to improve; this time it is slower than usual. Add to this the news in your paper that New Mexico wages are below the average U.S. levels, and you can see why this is the wrong time and the wrong place to advocate making it harder for people to get food stamps.

Letter 2
The food stamp program will continue to expand as long as the wealthiest 2 percent contrive to push more of the middle class into poverty for the greed of short-term gain. It’s short term because eventually not enough people will be able to purchase goods and services. At that stage your concern will no longer be about food stamps. Perhaps “let them eat cake” might be a clue.
Letter 3
Federal guidelines for poverty haven’t changed since the 1960s while food costs have risen significantly. The costs for child care, housing, insurances, transportation and taxes have also all increased creating a monumental division between what people have to spend and the cost of living. The real benefits of food stamps are to children who can’t learn, grow or look to a healthy future without good nutrition. According to the Children’s Defense Fund report of January 2012, approximately 175,000 children in New Mexico qualify for SNAP. That is 40 percent of SNAP payout in our state. Please don’t think these children have lazy parents because 32 percent are from families with at least one working member according to the N.M. Association of Food Banks.

We live in a state with many working poor people. SNAP provides only 2.3 weeks of nutrition for these families. What do parents do so children can eat for the other 1.7 weeks of the month? Adults go without food, without medicine, without health insurance, or reduce their work time to pay for child care, transportation, housing. None of these “solutions” produce a better life for their families or our economy. Wouldn’t perpetual corporate subsidies be a better handout to consider for cuts?

Letter 4
The Journal says to trim back before this level of the program becomes an entitlement. Would that be before a hungry 5-year-old thinks he is entitled to not be hungry? Or before a pregnant mother and her child learn how comforting it is to get adequate nutrition every day? Maybe what the Journal really wants is to replace entitlement with “expectation”: the 5-year old expecting to be hungry each day, and the pregnant woman expecting that from now on, life will always be difficult for her and her — unborn — child.

Here is the link to the Letters to the Editor Page for Sunday, June 16,

1 comment:

Jerry Ortiz y Pino said...

Great letters, Carlos. Thanks for sharing them with us. The Journal is increasingly the mouthpiece for those who desperately miss pre-Depression America and who are therefore attempting to turn the clock of social progress back 85 years. BFTW keeps us alert to that danger. Jerry Ortiz y Pino