Dear Congress: rethink your welfare beneficiaries

The House Agriculture Committee faces mounting pressure in regard to how it will save the farm bill by the end of the fiscal year. In a last-ditch effort, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed a strategy which hinges on a key component to cut $40 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.

In light of this, I can only say that it would be a travesty if these cuts were to pass. Food stamps provide an invaluable safety net to Americans who do not have the means to buy groceries. Have we really become so desensitized that this no longer seems like a priority?

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of stigma and stereotyping surrounding food stamps and those who use them. People on food stamps are often written off as lazy, but the truth is that there is not one face to the plight of poverty in the United States.

On Sunday Sept. 15, The Guardian ran an article titled, “I’m a college graduate who had to go on food stamps.” The author Andy Fitzgerald described a haunting experience searching for a job.

“For nearly eight months, I was unable to secure opportunities that weren’t sporadic or temporary, making it difficult to pay rent and buy food,” Fitzgerald wrote.

Fitzgerald described the night he decided to apply for food stamps in which he took his “final quarters, dimes and nickels to a fast food restaurant, hoping I had enough for a burger and fries.”

Fitzgerald is a graduate of a liberal arts college.

“I have long been an advocate for a strong safety net, but I never thought I would be ‘one of those people’ on it,” he wrote. It is an attitude that seems to be quite common today. I will not deny that even I have felt that way before.

Far too often we let ourselves forget about the plight of those less fortunate and push the issue to the back of our minds. We even tell ourselves that it can never happen to us. But the reality is that it can happen to anyone. It does not take much to go from having a roof over your head to begging for change.

In a story for the Minnesota Star Tribune, Sue Bulger, a resident of Minneapolis, Minn., wrote a response to an incident in her local grocery store in which customers shamed her for using food stamps.

In her mock apology, Bulger wrote, “I know we looked like people you might think need [Electronic Benefits Transfer]: a bit unkempt in sweatpants and T-shirts.”

She explained that the food stamps are her 28-year-old disabled son’s way of contributing to the family grocery bill. They were unkempt because she just had emergency surgery and did not have a chance to put on real clothes.

If you are still trying to give a face to poverty in the U.S., it is the face of Fitzgerald, the college graduate trying to make ends meet; it is the face of Bulger, dedicated mother of a disabled son who is putting her daughter through college. Perhaps the most important thing to remember, though, is that the face of poverty in America could be your face.

By cutting the SNAP program, Congress would do a grave disservice to the American people. Keeping American citizens from going hungry should be a nonpartisan issue, and I urge the House and Senate Agriculture committees to reconsider these devastating cuts.