By Carolyn Aronson
A recent letter from Representative Diane Black to me states that she voted for the farm bill (with $8 million in Food Stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts) because she, like me, is a supporter of food stamp benefits for Tennessee families who qualify. That’s a lot of families, as most recipients are families with children and the elderly. Now, recall that there was already a major cut to the food stamp program back in the fall. But for some Republicans, that was not enough.
Diane seems to think lottery winners and dead people are reaping the rewards of SNAP. Black also wants to be sure that able-bodied individuals who are receiving food stamps are encouraged to work. She applauds the establishment of pilot programs in 10 states that provide job training and work requirements.
However, a check of the Department of Labor website shows that a very similar program, the ABAWD (Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents) Program, has been in effect since the mid-1990s in Tennessee. This was part of the major welfare reform negotiated between President Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Yet Tennessee’s Food Stamp Program has expanded to include more than one in every six Tennesseans (according to the 2010/2011 United States Census). Tennessee, in fact, has one of the highest food stamp usages in the country.
16.4% of Cumberland County residents live below the poverty line, as do 25.4% of Fentress County residents. There are few good paying jobs available, and folks here need all the help they can get to support their families. Programs like SNAP and Medicaid are a necessary safety net for poverty stricken areas like Fentress County.
There are two ways to reduce SNAP reliance. One is to raise the minimum wage. This would take a lot of people out of poverty and off the SNAP rolls immediately. Currently, in Tennessee, we are subsidizing companies like Walmart by providing food stamps to their poorly paid employees. Walmart makes billions in profits, but a recent decline in Walmart stock was reported to be related to food stamp cuts. It has also been documented that many other large corporations in this country pay very low wages and actually train their employees to access public assistance programs so they can supplement their paychecks. Some of these companies also receive huge federal subsidies while paying non-livable wages.
The second way to reduce SNAP rolls is to make sure that people are “able-bodied.” The Affordable Care Act can make that happen. Yet the Tennessee Republican Party has blocked the establishment of a state ACA Marketplace and refused to expand Medicaid, leaving thousands without coverage.
Pamela Roshee, regional director for the Department of Health and Human Services, stated to “The Tennessean” that, as of Feb. 1, 2014, less than 60,000 Tennessee residents had signed up for insurance under the ACA. There are over 800,000 uninsured people in the state. Most who enrolled in the ACA qualified for subsidies, another indicator that many Tennessee citizens are in financial need. And, thanks to Tennessee’s refusal to accept federal money to expand TennCare, those who are too poor to qualify for ACA will be left without coverage of any kind.
Rep. Black needs to listen to the needs of her constituents. Area voters need to stop voting against their interests! Vote the person who will stand up for your needs, not the party ignoring them.
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This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. “We the People” is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in “We the People” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, coordinator, at email@example.com.