Friday, November 11, 2005

Pombo Votes to Cut Food Stamps

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. (Luke 6:21)

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

Each of us is full of metaphoric hungers. But I would wager that few among us have ever actually hungered for food day after day after day. I look at Richard Pombo and his flaccid, fleshy cheeks tell me that he has never missed a meal in his life. And yet, it’s still hard to believe that he would act like this (emphasis mine):

Facing the bill for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the damage from Hurricane Katrina, a disaster that exposed the deep pockets of poverty in this country, Republicans are poised to cut one of the nation's most important and basic safety net programs — food stamps.

The proposed cuts come despite promises not to reopen the 2002 farm bill (which is negotiated every five years) and not to make policy changes to meet budget goals. The food stamp cuts make huge policy changes to the program. The proposed cuts wouldn't simply reduce food stamp benefits; they would throw large numbers of people off the food stamp program altogether — without any debate over this policy change.

One policy change would impact food stamp eligibility primarily for low-wage working families, mostly with children.

A second cut would have harsh impacts for states with immigrant populations, including California. Nationally, 70,000 legal immigrants (illegal immigrants, of course, are not eligible for food stamps), would lose access to food stamps, including families with children and elderly parents. It would make legal immigrants ineligible for food stamps for seven years after entering the United States, no matter how poor they are.


Of four Californians on the House Agriculture committee, only Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, voted for the food stamp cuts. Reps. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; and Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced; voted against them.

Pombo and other Republicans on the committee voted for these cuts on the same day that the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report showing that the number of households who don't have enough food has risen to 13.5 million in 2004. In California, 12.4% of households don't have enough food some time during the year. Yet to balance the budget, they're not even considering a rollback in President Bush's record-high three rounds of tax cuts — which have gone to the highest-income households.

The average food stamp benefit is not a lot — $86 per person per month. You'd think that during wartime and natural disaster, the president and Congress would call for broad-based, shared sacrifice among Americans.

Instead, they're calling for cuts to programs that aid the nation's most vulnerable people — the poor, the elderly and children. That shows their sense of priorities. The food stamp cuts now go to the House Budget Committee, which should turn back the mean-spirited attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

I cannot think of a single scenario that would make his action here correct. I fully expect to disagree with Pombo on matters of politics and policy, but this seems to me an unambiguous question of basic morality: You do not deny a fellow human beings food when they are hungry and when you have plenty.

In the midst of the breadbasket of California we have a representative of the people who will let some go hungry. And in doing so, he will deny the demands of basic human decency so that he can finance the further enrichment of the already wealthy.

This is a disgrace. He is a disgrace. And it makes me so mad I could spit.

John Edwards has been saying that poverty in America is the great moral issue of our day. He is right. But things like this do not only test our morality, they also test our humanity. Richard Pombo is failing on both accounts.


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