What the Members of the “Pro-Hunger” House Caucus Should Know About Who Gets Food Stamps

It’s true: the number of recipients of food stamps have gone up since the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it turns out that some of the loudest critics and attackers of the program represent constituents who have the most to lose from food stamp cuts.

Bloomberg reviewed 2,049 U.S. counties for food stamp usage. Among the 250 counties with the highest concentration of food stamp recipients, 227 are wholly within one congressional district, with 160 represented by Republicans and 67 by Democrats.

Many of those same Republicans voted for a farm bill this past June that cut about $2 billion annually from food stamps. Many of them also voted for a July 11 farm bill that stripped all funding for food stamps – that bill passed the House.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) voted for both bills. He represents the second poorest district in the country, Kentucky’s 5th, where 32 percent of residents receive SNAP benefits.

His district also includes Owsley County, where 52 percent of residents received SNAP in 2011, a higher proportion than any other county in America.

Reporting for Bloomberg, John McCormick and Greg Giroux found that Owsley County residents were supportive of keeping the supplemental income:

“Of all the things they could cut in America, it shouldn’t be the food stamp program,” said Marshall, 58, who received Social Security disability payments and is raising three grandchildren, ages 7 through 17, in Booneville, Kentucky, on a monthly income of $1,255, all from the state or federal government.

In Owsley County, the unemployment rate is 11.8 percent, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. Residents say few jobs are available in an area hit hard by the closing of coal mines…

“Almost everyone I know gets at least some food stamps,” said Sara Price, a Booneville resident who has used the program for about a decade and gets $333 a month for her family of six. “There used to be more stigma attached to it. There is no shame with it, if you are working and trying to make ends meet.”

Maxine Gibson, 47, said she gets $165 a month in food stamps that she uses for a grandchild and another child, ages 9 and 5, that she’s raising. With her Social Security disability and other government assistance, she said her household has about $1,500 a month in income. “I buy a lot of soup because it’s cheaper,” she said. “It really doesn’t last all month.”

But to ideological hardliners like Rep. Rogers, that doesn’t matter so much.

“If there was no deficit, they would still want to cut this kind of program,” Graham Wilson, the political science department chairman at Boston University, said of Republicans. “They have a fervent ideological belief that government should be cut back.”

Rep. Rogers was criticized in the local press for his votes. Yet just last year 84 percent of his constituents voted to send him back for his 16th term. Would they, and other SNAP recipients represented by Republicans, be so supportive if they knew what their lawmakers were up to?

Check out the Bloomberg piece, and while you’re at it, see what the Lexington Herald-Leader about Rep. Rogers’ votes.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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