May 23, 2013 - Issue 518 A Question of Who’s Doing the Stealing - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - BC Columnist

In a country where it seems the sole purpose of government is to put on a show of fake combat between the two parties, it’s getting more and more difficult to determine who is stealing what and how the stealing is being accomplished.

During the recent debate over the Farm Bill this week, one courageous representative had the chutzpah to stand up in a committee meeting and declare that Americans who receive food stamps are the beneficiaries of government stealing other people’s money.

The reason that this took some courage is that Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., has himself, along with his family, been the beneficiary of millions of dollars in farm subsidies over recent years, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. Between 1999 and 2012, Fincher collected $3.48 million in farm subsidies, which breaks down to an average of $24,166 per month. That money comes from one source, the American taxpayers.

While he collected his farm subsidies for doing nothing, he lashed out against food stamp recipients for taking their comparative pittance of $100-$300 a month as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Food stamps go to those who have been left out of the social and economic benefits of the nation. They include children, the elderly, those who are disabled, veterans, those who are unable to find jobs that will allow them to support their families. Both versions of the Farm Bill have cut SNAP funding and the result is the cutoff of some 2 million working families from food assistance.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Fincher received a government check for $70,000 as a direct payment in 2012. Direct payments, EWG noted, “are issued automatically, regardless of need, and go predominantly to the largest, most profitable farm operations in the country.” The group adds: Fincher’s $70,000 farm subsidy haul in 2012 dwarfs the average 2012 SNAP benefit in Tennessee of $1,586.40, and it is nearly double of Tennessee’s median household income. After voting to cut SNAP by more than $20 billion.

Fincher, who quotes the Bible in partially explaining his vote against SNAP benefits, managed to vote in favor of expanding crop insurance subsidies by $9 billion over the next 10 years. This was right after he voted to cut SNAP by more than $20 billion (that effort by the Republicans failed). The actual cut to SNAP was smaller, but tell that to the millions of families who will have many hungry days in the future. Quoting the Bible, he told constituents and others: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

We can be sure that Fincher’s belly will always be full, because if he is not eating on his generous government paycheck and the perks that go with it, he will eat well on the farm subsidies that he receives for doing no work. That has to be the answer for someone who has incomes from a variety of sources, all of them seeming to emanate from one source, the American worker and taxpayer. The history that Fincher has read must be of the let-them-eat-cake school.

According to the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank, the cost of food stamps has doubled under President Obama, and the group claims that 80 percent of the Farm Bill consists of food stamp benefits, with the rest going to subsidies. One thing that Heritage fails to mention in its raising of the alarm about all that money going to poor people is that most of the farm subsidies, including “crop insurance” goes to a “small group of large farm businesses, while the bottom 80 percent of farmers receive roughly $5,000 a year,” according to EWG. SNAP limits aid to income below 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $30,000 per year for two adults and two children.

Republicans and others on the right continue their mantra of “providing only for the deserving poor,” and those who cannot fend for themselves. They obviously have not been watching the news about the economy and the dearth of jobs over the past 10 years. They obviously do not know that there is an economic crisis in most regions of the country. The stock market may be to their liking, but most workers do not rise and fall with the stock market. Rather, they are subject to it. The lack of jobs is a crisis in the U.S., but it is not likely that the representatives and senators who are debating the Farm Bill this week have been to the homes of those who are in need of food stamps. If they did, they would understand the depth of the problem.

The food stamp program is just one of the ways that tens of millions of Americans cope with an economy that has failed them. And, it is not of their doing. They just have to put up with it. Politicians have failed the people, in general, and their failure to help develop another way to work and live and survive is weakening the country, day by day.

It’s pretty easy to see who gets something for nothing, when looking at the disparity in wealth between the top 1 percent and the other 99 percent. There is no work and no effort that warrants $30 million for an annual paycheck for CEOs, but that’s where the money is. Food stamps are really a band-aid solution to the problem of the U.S. economy and it would not be too much to ask to see the program’s size double again.

That politicians show their contempt for those who are in need and question whether they really need assistance speaks volumes about their lack of understanding of the crumbling condition of the economy and the poisonous politics they have created. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.