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Vol. 78/No. 7      February 24, 2014

Washington slashes food
stamps, aid to unemployed
(lead article)
Millions of workers in the U.S. got hit with a double-whammy this month when Congress voted to slash food stamps and refused to extend federal pay for those unemployed more than 26 weeks.

The latest $8.7 billion cut in food stamps comes packaged inside the 959-page farm bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law Feb. 7. In a statement released after the Senate approved the bill 68 to 32, the president hailed the legislators’ “strong bipartisan vote.” Some 1.7 million people will be directly affected by the cuts.

This comes on top of the Feb. 6 Senate vote rejecting an extension of federal unemployment compensation for the 1.7 million workers whose benefits have run out since the end of 2013.

The farm bill eliminates what is called the “heat and eat” program, where people in 15 states and the District of Columbia — 850,000 households — who get federally funded home heating assistance subsidies could deduct their utility costs from their incomes, allowing them to qualify for food stamps.

Since 2007 the number of workers receiving food stamps has increased by 21 million to a record high of 47.6 million in 2013, according to Agriculture Department figures. It continued to rise during the nearly five years of so-called economic recovery, as job growth has stagnated with millions of workers unable to obtain full-time work.

These latest cuts come on top of $5 billion that was eliminated from the program last November, when some temporary benefits incorporated in the 2009 “stimulus” bill expired, reducing food stamp allotments across the board by an average of 5 percent per person.

Senate votes down jobless benefits

The federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which started during the recession in 2008, provided extended jobless benefits of up to 47 weeks after 26-week coverage by most states ended. This program had been reauthorized 11 times since then, but an increasingly contentious debate divided along party lines in Congress has prevented any further extension since it lapsed a month and a half ago. As a result, some 1.7 million workers have been stricken from the unemployment rolls. And these numbers continue to rise each week.

Some state governments are seeking to cut the number of weeks workers can get unemployment pay. North Carolina, for example, last year cut eligibility to 20 weeks.

The Obama administration sought to win bipartisan support for the deal by throwing in new anti-working-class measures. One that got support from some Republicans would have required unemployed workers to sign papers that they earned less than $1 million in the previous year.

Overthrowing the universal right to unemployment, any “means testing,” would open the door to more and more restrictions.

The January official unemployment rate declined slightly to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent in December. But the number of jobs employers added was 113,000, way below meeting the needs of the millions of workers seeking full-time jobs.

For those whose federal unemployment benefits have ended, increasing numbers, out of work long-term, are joining the ranks of the millions no longer counted by government statisticians as part of the workforce. The government counts some of these workers as “marginally attached” or downright “discouraged.” It doesn’t even acknowledge the several million more who have been “discouraged” for more than a year.

So while official unemployment figures continue to creep downward, actual employment as a percentage of the population stays flat.  
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