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Bill Straub: ‘Tis the season; since lots of kids are hungry, can we figure out how to feed them?

‘Tis the season, as they say, and Kentuckians caught up in the spirit are ready to spread the sort of comfort and joy one might expect as Christmas draws near.

Well, most of them anyway.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, a sterling advocate of the “I’ve got mine I don’t care about yours’’ philosophy of Ayn Rand, is at it again. In a state where 20 percent of the children are facing what the experts call food insecurity – meaning they sometimes go to bed hungry because of a lack of sustenance – our Wonder Boy is kicking and gouging the old, reliable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) popularly known as food stamps.

House and Senate conferees have been working on a Farm Bill for months with one of the major hang-ups revolving around SNAP, which offers nutrition assistance to millions of low-income individuals and families. It is considered the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.

Kids in poverty (PBS.org photo)

And the nation needs it. According to WhyHunger, a grassroots, nutrition organization, 40 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they are often forced to skip meals, eat less at meals and buy cheap non-nutritious food. Of that total, more than 12 million are children.
The group maintains 15 million households in the U.S. – 11.8 percent of the total — suffer food insecurity.

SNAP doesn’t go far enough in easing the hunger problem in the richest nation in the history of the world but at least it makes an effort. About 40.6 million Americans currently rely on SNAP to help meet their food needs.

The most recent wrangling appears to be overwork requirements for those who are always labeled able-bodied adults, even though more than half of the adults in households with children who receive SNAP benefits already hold down jobs and almost 90 percent are employed the prior or subsequent year.

It now appears a deal is in the offing and, while details have not been disclosed, it appears SNAP will be pretty much left alone, which is good news since a lot of majority Republicans in the House and Senate are pretty grumpy about the program to begin with.

And then there’s our own Rep. Massie, who has never been enamored with SNAP. He voted against the original House version of the Farm Bill back in July 2013 because, as he explained, “The farm bill I voted against two weeks ago was a food stamp bill masquerading as a farm bill, with 80 percent of the funding going to food stamps.” He supported the final version only after changes were made.

And now he’s questioning in his usual jaunty style whether Americans or anyone else for that matter, have a right to food. Apparently stung by Democrats criticizing conservatives for looking to “reform” SNAP, Wonder Boy took to Twitter, his favorite social media outlet, to ask:

“How long until someone runs on the platform of #FoodStampsForAll? If healthcare is a right, is food as well?”

Even that old liberal, Marie Antoinette, supposedly said: “Let them eat cake.” Wonder Boy, not to be outdone, suggests they eat, well, maybe nothing.

Of course, every American should have a right to food.

Hunger in the U.S. is not caused by a lack of food – there’s plenty of that in the land of amber waves of grain and the fruited plain. It’s the result of poverty. Low-income families often find themselves struggling to balance the need for food with other basic necessities and often face dire consequences as a result. The Declaration of Independence seeks “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’’ for all and it’s pretty doggone hard to maintain life or be gleeful without food.

NPR graphic

Without a program like food stamps, where does Massie expect these families to turn? They’ve closed the poor houses, after all.

Interestingly, Massie’s post has to date drawn more than 17,000 responses on Twitter, most of them asserting that you know what? Food stamps for all isn’t a half bad idea and that “food is a human right indeed.’’

“That’s a great suggestion Representative!” said one. “I agree, those who are hungry should absolutely have a right to eat. I would certainly support reallocating my taxes away from war & subsidies for the rich, and toward feeding people.”

Said another, “Yes, definitely! #FoodStampsForAll saved me and my sister after my parents’ divorce.
Can’t imagine what it would have been like without it. Oh wait, I do know. We were hungry kids…”

Regardless, Massie never says what should be done in the absence of food stamps. Naturally, he would prefer that able-bodied folks work for their vittles. But what about the kids? It’s easy enough to roll out the old Chinese proverb, “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” But while the old man is learning to fish, his kids still need to eat.

Kids Eat, another nutrition group, notes that almost 200,000 children in Kentucky, the state Wonder Boy is supposed to represent, are food insecure even with SNAP.

The group said studies show that children living in food-insecure homes “are at greater risk for poor health, nutritional deficiencies, and obesity, as well as developmental delays and poor academic achievement.

“The intersection of hunger and health can be most accurately depicted as a cycle,’’ Kids Eat said.

“First, a food-insecure household is forced to engage in coping strategies, often including the consumption of cheaper foods that are high in calories but low in nutritional value. Reliance on less healthy foods can lead to toxic stress, poor nutrition, and chronic diet-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity.”

In a silly response, the Whiz Kid posted on Twitter, “Think of how great food would be if politicians and bureaucrats decided who could provide it, how much you could eat, and what it would cost. #FoodStampsForAll seems to be catching on.”

Rest assured, Wonder Boy, as soon as the federal government starts imposing those regulations, we’ll talk. Until then, how about making sure people don’t suffer from hunger.

Massie, a devout Methodist, is an abortion foe. He’s a perfect example of what former Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, meant when he said, “From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

Since it is the Christmas season, and Wonder Boy is a Christian man, he might want to take a re-gander at The Feeding of the 5,000 found in all four gospels. The crowds following Jesus were understandably getting hungry. The disciples recommended that he send the multitudes away to find food. Instead, with only five loaves of bread and two fish on hand, Jesus miraculously saw to it that everyone got fed.

During the Christmas season, if Jesus can feed his followers, why can’t the United States of America?

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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