Monday, January 23, 2012

Will the Real "Food Stamp President" Please Stand Up?

During a late afternoon walk this weekend, I saw a young mother walking brusquely with her two children, one of whom was wearing a winter jacket and hood.

Well, I thought, I'm glad I'm not the only one cold enough to wear a hood. They were not a particularly distinctive trio, this mother and her two children. They were dressed well-enough, but I noticed the children hungrily working away at hero sandwiches.

As I passed her, the young woman, who was in her early 20's, politely asked if I knew of any churches nearby. She said she'd been walking with her children for seven miles looking for a church, or shelter, and that she'd even stopped and asked a police officer who wasn't helpful at all.

I told her the closest church was in downtown Walnut Creek. She asked how far that was, and I said about two miles. "Well," she said, "I've already walked seven miles, so why not." I told her she could take BART, and asked if she had train fare, but she wasn't interested in train fare. She was interested in finding a roof for herself, and her two small children.

Trust me, there was no way you would have known that this woman was homeless. She looked like she could be a bank teller, or a teacher, a librarian, a technican, or a nurse.

I mentioned that there was a church not far away that serves food, and gives showers to the needy, but their hours were vastly reduced. But, she wanted more than some hot food and a bath. She wanted to come in out of the rain, and that there are so few shelters that people must turn to churches sounds like something from a Charles Dickens novel not something one would expect to encounter in the age of the I-Pod and the Blackberry.

In another city that faces unprecedented homelessness, Orlando, Florida, Republicans are preparing to vote for the man who will best represent them in the 2012 presidential race. How many of these folks know that the fellow who calls President Obama the "food stamp president" also distracted another president, Bill Clinton, from realizing his plan for universal health coverage by peddling his "welfare reform," and a measure which drastically cut Aid to Dependent Families, thereby putting many young mothers out on the street, walking miles to locate the nearest church?

Yes, Mr. Gingrich balanced the federal budget by lowering the capital gains tax, and cutting welfare benefits, as well as school lunches. He balanced the federal budget on the backs of working families, and the poor. He did it in 1994, and he will do it again.

So, the candidate who now promotes jobs and not food stamps extolls the virtues of "smaller government," but what do he and his homeboys really mean by "smaller government?" Eradicating whatever is left of a safety net for working poor, and the homeless while at the same time increasing the comfort level for large corporations by reducing their tax obligation.

Ron Paul would also like to see this young mother turn to the church, or find themselves at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. Ron Paul and friends think the government shouldn't be there to provide relief, or shelter from the storm. They want to go back to the days before Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the New Deal.

And, anyone who questions where Mitt Romney stands on the issue of poverty, and workers in this country has only to examine his record as governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007.

Back in the summer of 2006, the Massachusetts legislature passed a measure that raised the minimum wage from nearly $7 an hour to $8 an hour which then-Governor Romney vetoed. The governor simply said he had "spent hours reading a wide array of reviews on the minimum wage and its impact on the economy, and there's no question raising the minimum wage excessively causes a loss of jobs."

Sound familiar? That's right, Romney isn't the only one who thinks the minimum wage hurts business. Ron Paul wants to do away with the minimum wage altogether.

Moreover, it wasn't just the immigrant community, legal and otherwise, that Romney antagonized when he proposed that state troopers arrest and detain anyone who didn't have documentation proving citizenship, way ahead of Arizona by the way, Romney's approval rating went south for a host of reasons including, of course, that he left the state near the bottom of the list in terms of job creation. In fact, Romney's approval rating during his tenure as Massachusetts' governor was cut in half from 66% to about 34%. As his brethren on the campaign stump are quick to point out, Romney has lost every other bid for public office he's made since.

But, of course, this is not about Mitt Romney any more than it's about Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, or Ron Paul, but instead which party will direct a young African-American mother to a local church for shelter, and which party will be more concerned with giving subsidies to provide affordable housing than giving government subsidies, and tax right-offs to behemoth corporations like Wal-Mart, or Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

This is about who fought to cut school lunches, and who will continue to take from education to feed the war coffers, as well as who will turn back the clock back to those infamous days when owners of restaurants could legally seat whomever they pleased at lunch counters.

This is not about whose vision is more in keeping with that of the founding fathers, no one running for office, Republican or Democrat would pass that test. This is about priorities. Both Gingrich and Romney need a beginner's course in Priorities 101.

For every predator drone purchased, one federally subsidized low income housing complex can be built, or state universities and colleges facing massive layoffs and cut-backs can be subsidized instead of chief executive officers of big banks.

Republican candidates all support the right to life before birth, after birth you're on your own. Don't ask for the government to help you in any way except when it comes to overturning a constitutional amendment that protects the right to choose.

Alas, and those who depend on the kindness of strangers often find themselves out in the cold.

The Democrats aren't doing much better at addressing the needs of workers and the poor than the Republicans have done. But, the fact that food stamp use has increased by nearly 50% the month before Obama took office, as reported by Bloomberg, suggests that it was under a Republican administration, when this country first started hemorrhaging jobs, that the need for food stamps rose. So, if anyone deserves to be called the "food stamp president," George W. Bush does. He set the stage for hunger, homelessness, and poverty in this country not seen the 1930's.

True, total spending on food subsidies is more than double what it was since 2000, and has now reached arecord high of $75.3 billion, but the number of American families living below the poverty level is also at a record high.

And, if you're looking to blame somebody for the major rise in government spending on subsidizing the dietary needs of poor Americans by calling him the "Food Stamp President," why not blame the one whose economic policies increased the number of those who qualify as indigent exponentially.

And, contrary to what the former House speaker would have you think, a fact Gingrich insists on hiding under a huge pile of verbiage he calls a campaign, in a south still intent on maintaining its confederacy, according to Bloomberg,, too, more food stamp recipients, fully 34% are white; 22% are African-American, and another 16% are Hispanic. What we have here, Mr. Gingrich, is multicultural hunger.

Keep in mind, too, that every Republican running for the White House this year is also running from how to deal with the growing problem of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in America.