Friday, January 31, 2014

National Labor Fightback Network angry over vote by House of Representatives this week to pass farm bill that cuts food stamps by 8.6 billion, denies extension of unemployment benefits, group urges AFL-CIO, teachers unions, other national labor groups to mobilize, bill now heads to U.S. Senate

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -The majority Democratic U.S. House of Representatives this week voted 252-166 to cut food stamp funding by $8.6 billion over a 10-year period. Eighty-nine Democrats joined 162 Republicans to bring about this result, 

Labor organizations across the nation, led by
The Labor Fightback Network, whose national headquarters is stationed in Flanders, New Jersey,  are upset about it, and are staging efforts to counter what they say is an attack on the country's poor.

Members of that labor network are organizing to denounce the cuts and have invited the AFL-CIO, together with Change to Win, the National Education Association and our community partners and supporters, to join together on an emergency basis.

The bill, dubbed the Farm Bill, sets agricultural policy for the next decade and would cost $956.4 billion. It now heads to the Republican dominated U.S. Senate, which is scheduled to take it up next week. And though some Congressional Democrats supported the bill saying it's the best they can do, labor activists are saying no way.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has praised the House vote, a position contrary to labor. 

The Senate on June 10, 2013 voted to cut food stamp spending by $4.1 billion over ten years so this latest version is more than double that amount.

"They are gutting a program to provide food for hungry people to pay for corporate welfare," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York Coalition Against Hunger.

Anti-hunger advocates like Berg say crop insurance expansion would come at the expense of millions of people who depend on food stamps.

"This vote is a tragic, heartless and economically counterproductive departure from America's bipartisan history of fighting hunger," Berg said. "Members of Congress who voted for this should be ashamed."

The $8.6 billion cut would reduce benefits by about $90 a month for 850,000 households. 

According to Feeding America, a coalition of food banks across the country, the change would result in 34 lost meals per month for the affected  families.

"My line in the sand has always been, I'm not going to vote for a farm bill that makes hunger worse in America," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.), who indeed voted against the measure.

Nearly 72 percent of SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which includes food stamps, are participants are in families with children; more than one-quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Bipartisan Congress Allows Benefits to Long-Term Unemployed to Lapse

Simultaneously with the drive to cut food stamps, Congress voted to approve a budget that excluded extension of unemployment insurance for 1.3 million jobless and their families. This , says labor activists, places in jeopardy an additional 3.6 million workers who face losing their unemployment benefits in the coming months.

While bills have been introduced in both chambers of Congress to restore the unemployed benefits, they face an uncertain future. Many Republicans now claim that if the benefits are severed, jobless workers will have a greater incentive to find a job. This despite the indisputable fact that for every job that comes open, three workers apply.

Data show that here is a clear-cut interconnection between the food stamp and unemployment compensation issues. The more workers lose their compensation, the more they will seek food stamps, which will overwhelm food banks even more than is the case now. Anti poverty activists say food banks already face crises in having sufficient food to feed the hungry.

So Who Is To Blame?

We start with Congress itself. It was widely expected that the Republican-dominated House of Representatives would throw every roadblock in the books to curb unemployment compensation, while at the same time cutting food stamps to the bone. But what about the Democratic-dominated Senate, which many looked to for protection of workers' rights and benefits?

Congress agreed previously, with only one dissenting vote in the Senate, to cut food stamp funding by $4.1 billion. And they unanimously approved the Ryan-Murray budget deal excluding unemployment benefits, leaving it to the tender mercy of the Republicans to restore the benefits in separate legislation.
Welcome to the age of austerity. And welcome to the new normal.

In the past, unemployment insurance was routinely extended with no demand for 'offsets,' which is the Republicans' battle cry today.
Former Tennessee member of the U.S. House of Representative Harold Ford, Jr. said that Congressional  Democrats are responsible for what happened because they needlessly opened the door widely for Republican obstructionism when the Democrats failed to insist that extension of jobless compensation be included in the budget deal.

The Republicans would have been forced to go along with the inclusion because they certainly could not afford to shut down the government again, Ford said,  justifying it on the ground that it was the Democrats' fault for refusing to drop a critically needed benefit for the long-term unemployed.

Labor's Role

On July 11, 2013 and again on September 19, 2013, the AFL-CIO issued statements blasting the Republicans for their actions on cutting food-stamp funding. And on December 11, 2013, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued this statement on the budget deal:

"It is shocking that Republicans have refused to include an extension of unemployment benefits in today's budget agreement. At the end of December, federal unemployment benefits will expire for 1.3 million jobless workers. Lawmakers must not desert these workers by going home for their own holidays without extending the federal unemployment benefits program."
In each of these cases all the blame for what has happened is placed at the Republicans' door with nothing said about the Democrats' complicity, activists say.

 For more information, please call 973-944-8975 or email or write Labor Fightback Network, P.O. Box 187, Flanders, NJ  07836  or visit us at The Labor Fightback Network