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Food for thought

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There’s compromise to be had in the Congressional debate about food stamps.

Part of ongoing federal budget negations, food stamps remain an ideological hot potato. On one hand, anti-hunger aid administered by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides essential benefits for 47 million people in need nationwide, including 430,000 in Connecticut. Although system-abuse invariably exists, many, if not most, of these individuals are in difficult circumstances beyond their control. They are victims of unforeseeable, unforgiving forces like poor health or economic downturn. In the spirit of humanitarianism, a first-world country must take care of its worst-off citizens.

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Moreover, a little under half of food-stamp recipients in Connecticut are children or senior citizens. Without support, these populations in challenging times would have trouble fending off hunger.

To think otherwise is insensitive.

Economic reality, however, has lawmakers reevaluating the food-stamp program.

Since the recession of 2007, yearly SNAP costs have escalated from $26 billion to $80 billion. This expense growth is unsustainable.

Then there is the questionable theory of whether food stamps are disincentive for people to find work. We would argue that under- and unemployment are the main drivers of SNAP applicants, who would relish employment opportunities. But one side of the negotiating table seems convinced otherwise.

Thus, a legislative avenue for compromise could be a Republican proposal that food-stamp recipients be required to work or attend job training for at least 20 hours per week.

While this qualification is intriguing, the prerequisite is unrealistically high. Lower it to 5 hours: enough time to attend weekly job-training forums. Perhaps SNAP itself could fund a series of classes on how to find and maintain employment.

Closing the “heat and eat” loophole could also be a humane, sensible modification. Families who receive federal support through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are eligible for additional food-stamp help. But LIHEAP qualifications are apparently low and vague. Consequently, states like Connecticut will assign LIHEAP privileges to great numbers of individuals on SNAP — through means such as granting just $1 in home-energy aid — thus significantly improving people’s food-stamp benefits. Requiring $10 to $20 in shelter aid to qualify for the SNAP bonus would close that extra-benefit loophole by rendering it too pricey for states to abuse. With projected savings of $10.3 billion over 10 years, this change is not unreasonable in light of national budget woes.

What is unreasonable is a House-GOP plan to pare down SNAP by $40 billion. Safety net reductions of this magnitude would devastate people who least could afford further setbacks.

More perceptive of the common man is the Democrat counteroffer: a $4 billion cut.

Although that too could mean harder times ahead for citizens already struggling, at least it isn’t recklessly excessive.

The key to protecting such people while also agreeing upon necessary welfare cuts will be negotiation and concessions. Somewhere between the divergent philosophies of Democrats and Republicans is a food-stamp compromise which can move America forward without leaving behind those in need.



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