By Jill Richardson
The Trump administration has proposed a rule that will cut an estimated 3 million eligible people off food stamps while depriving half a million eligible children of school lunch.
I’ve been on food stamps.
I spent most of my life with mental illness, and it was not diagnosed until a few years ago. Not knowing there was a reason everything was so difficult for me, I pushed myself until I could push no more.
I got good grades in school, and went to college on a scholarship. I got my degree and then got a full-time job like I thought I was supposed to.
I began getting severe migraines every day at the age of 14. That was my body telling me that I was doing more than I could handle and I needed to stop and heal. I had a migraine every day for 23 years. Working was hellish and painful, and I still tried.
When I could no longer handle an office job, I tried being self-employed and working from home. I could never make enough to really get by on. Then I went on food stamps. It didn’t mean I could stop working. I got $70 a month so I could eat, but I still had to pay rent and put gas in my car, and for that, I worked.
I’m fortunate I didn’t have children. If I did, my kids would have suffered through my financial insecurity through no fault of their own. But food stamps and school lunch would have helped ensure they had a chance in life despite being born to a mom too sick to make ends meet.
While the moral righteousness of food stamps justifies the program on its own, there are other benefits to it as well.
Food stamps are a huge stimulus to the economy. Families spend their SNAP benefits to buy food from local businesses like grocery stores, and that creates jobs — from the store clerk stocking the shelves, to the truck driver transporting the food, to the farmers and ranchers producing the food.
For every $5 the U.S. government spends on food stamps, it generates $9 in economic activity. That’s an incredibly effective stimulus.
Federal school breakfast and lunch programs do more than help food security too — they help kids succeed. Imagine trying to pay attention or take a test while you’re hungry. School breakfast and lunch helps kids from low income families break the cycle of poverty when they grow up, because it helps them benefit more from their education.
The movement to cut low-income people who are eligible for food stamps and school lunch off of those programs isn’t just immoral, it’s short-sighted.
The Trump administration claims the measure will save money because there will be less federal spending on helping hungry people eat. In addition to the cruelty of “saving money” by taking food from the hungry, it will also ultimately harm the nation by removing the economic stimulus that food stamps provide and making it that much harder for half a million already poor kids to do well in school.
Forcing kids to go hungry is a lose-lose.
Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” She is a columnist for OtherWords.org.