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Clueless Congress

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As reported by ABC, "The Senate gave final approval today to a new five-year Farm Bill, a massive spending measure of nearly $1 trillion that brings sweeping change to agriculture, dairy, conservation and food programs . . . The legislation calls for a significant reduction in the food stamp program, which will be cut by about $8 billion over the next decade. Some lawmakers who said the cuts in food stamps were too severe opposed the measure . . . ."

And on another front of Congressional inaction - or under-action, "U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday set up a showdown vote with Republicans on a new bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans while making millionaires ineligible for such relief . . . Democrats included a provision to bar those earning more than $1 million a year from drawing unemployment checks . . . Tax records show that in 2010 a couple of thousand unemployed millionaires managed to get federal or state jobless benefits . . . ."

With these two measures - the Farm Bill decreasing food stamp benefits, and the two chambers almost positively being unable to come to an agreement on the extension of unemployment benefits, something Republicans think is just a very very bad thing - one thing is clear: Nobody who's actually doing the voting on things like this have any clue at all about what poverty looks like, feels like, and tastes like.

The Farm Bill allows food prices for largely middle-middle or upper-middle class, and the rich, to see food prices stabilize - but in order to do that, it strips the poorest of our citizens of badly needed, necessary food assistance. And perhaps the provision that doubles food assistance for those shopping at farmers markets is a nice perk and has at its base good intentions - for those, that is, who are near a farmers market. For those in food deserts, or with no transportation to farmers market, it's virtually useless. 850,000 households will be affected by these food stamp cuts, which will reduce the monthly benefit by about $90. To Congresspeople, $90 covers the wine at a moderate dinner, but to families with nothing to spare, $90 means the difference between eating beans and rice, or eating only rice. Or eating nothing.

A lot of us know about being poor, raising kids with less than sufficient money (many of us as single parents), trying to keep it all going when the resources are slim. These people in Congress have apparently never known what it's like to budget carefully so you don't run out of gas or bus money before the next paycheck, about going to the grocery store with ten dollars and trying to decide whether to buy healthy or buy what will stretch further, about bribing your kids with a day off of school because you can't afford the cost of the field trip. None of them evidently have lost sleep worrying about the phone bill and the power bill and the water bill, or have stayed awake nights with their minds grinding away, hoping nothing catastrophic happens (and to someone struggling, "catastrophic" can mean a minor car repair or a new tire, or even ten bucks for a school project).

And although unemployment insurance doesn't pay much, it provides some cash, a small but durable cushion against being flat-out broke. Apparently, (largely Republican) Congresspeople have never had their incomes cut off abruptly, with no safety net. Apparently, Republicans in Congress have never had to park their cars because there's simply no gas money. It seems apparent that Republicans in Congress - wholly convinced that unemployment insurance contributes to slothful ways and shiftlessness - have never had their cell phones cut off, their utilities threatened, their residences and very survival at risk, because there's just no money. They sit in their ivory towers, assuming the worst of our citizenry, assuming that jobless people are perfectly content with the measly sum that comes with unemployment compensation, that they're perfectly content barely scraping by. No. People want jobs - and again, Republicans have yet to pass a jobs bill, or support the President's jobs bill, or give more than a passing glance at anything resembling one.

This should be a no-brainer, an extension of unemployment benefits. This country, this rich, rich country, full of rich, rich people, should not think twice about guaranteeing survival income to its citizens. Churches aren't doing it, food pantries are running out of food, citizens alone can't swing it - but the government can, and it should, and if Republicans have their way on this, it won't.

One wish, just one wish - and it would be that every person who votes against the extension of unemployment insurance spends an eternity shopping for a family of four at Aldi with ten bucks.

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