Hunger a persistent problem for poor Americans as Republicans mull SNAP cuts

Hunger a persistent problem for poor Americans as Republicans mull SNAP cuts

JUDY WOODRUFF: Congressional Republicans yesterday
unveiled a budget that would dramatically
curb spending on a host of social welfare
programs, including the federal government’s
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,
or SNAP, better known as food stamps.
The president’s budget released earlier this
year also included deep cuts to the program.
To see how those proposals might play out,
“NewsHour” special correspondent Cat Wise
recently traveled to Arkansas, a state that
voted heavily for Mr. Trump.
This report is part of Chasing the Dream,
our ongoing series on poverty and opportunity
in America.
CAT WISE: In the small town of Thornton, Arkansas,
Joannie Cayce fires up her truck twice a month,
and drives to a Wal-Mart about 30 miles away
to stock up on fruits, vegetables, meat, milk
and other products donated by the company.
When she returns to the local food pantry
her family has run since the 1950s, some 200
residents are waiting, and a desperate rush
WOMAN: We get paid every two weeks, and, by
the end of the week, it’s like the cupboards
are bare, and we’re ramen noodling, you know?
WOMAN: I got two kids at the house and stuff
that’s hungry that I have to feed.
CAT WISE: Ms. Cayce, as she’s known here,
says the number of people she serves each
month has nearly doubled in the past year-and-a-half,
from 350 to 650, even as the state’s economy
has improved.
JOANNIE CAYCE, Cayce Charities: We see no
employment, no grocery stores, no craft stores.
Mostly, the families are generationally poor,
and they can’t move.
They don’t have the money to move or anywhere
to go to move.
CAT WISE: The day we visited, Brittney Williams
came to Ms. Cayce’s with her two young daughters.
At mid-month, she’s already run out of the
$231 a month she receives in food stamps,
or SNAP, the federal government’s Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program for the poor.
BRITTNEY WILLIAMS, Receives SNAP Assistance:
I’m out of food stamps within two weeks.
And that’s another two weeks week-and-a-half,
two weeks, that I’m sitting here, well, how
am I going to feed my kids?
You know, what am I going to do next?
Am I going to have to beg people for food,
or go to Ms. Cayce, or what if Ms. Cayce don’t
come back to me in time, and I run out?
CAT WISE: Brittney’s husband, Daryl, works
full-time as a security guard at the local
sawmill, making $11 an hour.
He says the family’s bills have been piling
up for months, and that they’re now facing
DARYL WILLIAMS, Receives SNAP Assistance:
I have got a truck payment outside.
I have got all the utilities in here.
After buying pull-ups and wipes for them included,
I have got maybe $50 to $100 left a month,
and that’s got to go in for gas, so I can
get back and forth to work for the next two
CAT WISE: To qualify for food stamps, a family
of four in Arkansas must make less than $32,000
a year.
Last year, 14 percent of the state’s population
was on SNAP, or about 426,000 people.
That percentage mirrors the national picture.
In 2016, 44 million Americans were on SNAP,
receiving an average benefit of $126 per person
per month, or about $1.40 a meal.
For years, the program has been in the crosshairs
of conservative lawmakers, who say the government
simply can’t sustain a federal program that
last year cost $71 billion, up from $33 billion
in 2007, before the recession.
BRUCE WESTERMAN (R), Arkansas: Instead of
lifting people out of poverty, many of our
welfare programs are actually trapping people
in poverty.
CAT WISE: Bruce Westerman is the Republican
U.S. representative of the 4th District in
Arkansas, which includes Thornton.
BRUCE WESTERMAN: We have got to do something
to get the debt under control.
It’s either do it the easy way now, which
may not seem easy to some, or have the whole
thing come crashing down and not be able to
provide SNAP, or Medicare and Medicaid or
anything to anyone because we’re in a financial
CAT WISE: Mick Mulvaney is the Trump administration’s
director of the Office of Management and Budget.
MICK MULVANEY, White House Budget Director:
We’re no longer going to measure compassion
by the number of programs or the number of
people on those programs, but by the number
of people we help get off of those programs.
CAT WISE: In May, the White House presented
its budget, which aimed to slash federal spending
by $3.6 trillion over the next decade.
If Congress were to pass that budget, SNAP
would lose $193 billion, around a quarter
of its funding.
The plan calls for tightening standards on
who qualifies for the program, and, for the
first time, the budget shifts a large chunk
of the cost to states, starting with 10 percent
in 2020 and rising to 25 percent in 2023.
For Arkansas, that would mean $144 million
added to its state budget each year.
KATHY WEBB (D), Former Arkansas State Representative:
I don’t see where we would make up that $144
CAT WISE: You don’t think the state can make
that up?
KATHY WEBB: I don’t think the state can make
that up.
CAT WISE: Kathy Webb is a former state Democratic
representative who now runs the Arkansas Hunger
Relief Alliance, a nonprofit organization
connecting and advocating for the state’s
food banks.
She says private charities could not fill
the gap.
KATHY WEBB: We cannot make up the difference.
And all of the charitable food network put
together is about a 20th of what the federal
safety net is.
CAT WISE: Webb also worries about the effect
a SNAP cut would have on grocery stores in
poor communities.
RANDY LINDSEY, Business Owner: It takes everything
to make it.
There is no slack.
CAT WISE: Randy Lindsey and his wife, Janice,
run the Bottom Dollar Store in Bearden, near
It’s one of the few stores in the area selling
fresh produce and meat, as well as household
items, flowers and more.
Lindsey, a Trump supporter, says, in a tough
economy, every little bit helps.
RANDY LINDSEY: If I lost 25 percent of SNAP,
for me, it would mean cutting 10 to 15 hours
a week, or roughly 40 hours a month off payroll.
CAT WISE: So your employees would be impacted?
It would impact employees.
That’s a pretty good chunk to lose.
There’s not much gravy in this operation.
We make less money, then something has to
be cut.
CAT WISE: Conservatives often point out that
SNAP expanded considerably under Presidents
George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and they
are correct.
The rise was particularly acute during the
recession of 2008, when millions lost work
and joined SNAP’s rolls.
Benefits were also increased as part of the
Stimulus Act, the 2009 law that pumped billions
in federal spending into communities across
the country.
Yet, since late 2012, both spending and the
number of people on SNAP have fallen, and
the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office
estimates that, if no changes were made, the
share of the population on SNAP would return
to pre-recession levels by 2027.
Still, SNAP remains historically high, as
more working families like the Williams, and
seniors like 63-year-old James Jackson earn
less, thus qualifying for the benefit.
JAMES JACKSON, Receives SNAP Assistance: Anybody,
anyone, at any time can be affected by poverty.
CAT WISE: Nearly 25 percent of all seniors
in Arkansas face the threat of hunger.
That leads the nation, according to a recent
Jackson, a trained chef and a professional
painter, has struggled to find work since
his truck broke down.
He now lives in subsidized housing in Little
Rock and receives $172 a month in food stamps.
He voted for President Trump, but urges him
not to make these cuts.
JAMES JACKSON: Give me a chance to get off
the very program that you’re trying to cut.
I want to get off.
But if you take away my ability to get off,
what can I do?
CAT WISE: In the long run, it’s more economic
opportunities, rather than government assistance,
that Congressman Westerman says will best
help the people of his state.
BRUCE WESTERMAN: It’s a shame that we have
to have a program that large in this country.
We need to provide more opportunities for
people that are good-paying jobs, and not
just jobs, but careers where they can build
homes and communities.
CAT WISE: Back in Thornton, after the rush
has passed, Joannie Cayce listens to the desperate
plea of a woman who couldn’t get there today.
WOMAN: I am a grandmother of four.
I live alone.
Please, please, help me.
JOANNIE CAYCE: It’s the people that don’t
come in, it’s the people that live 30 miles
outside of this little food bank and that
I don’t know about or that I can’t reach,
it’s those people that keep me awake at night,
those children that I know that are out of
school that aren’t getting a breakfast and
CAT WISE: Some hungry families may not be
able to get to her, but Ms. Cayce spends the
rest of her day making home deliveries.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Cat Wise in Thornton,

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