Food stamps, minimum wage hike invest in our future

On June 20, 2013, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

mayor_webBy Joseph A. Curtatone

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The  Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and  do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff  or publishers.)

In Somerville, and in Massachusetts, we believe in investing in our residents and our local economy. To see the stark contrast between this approach and the slash-and-burn approach elsewhere you need only compare the proposed cuts to the federal nutrition assistance program to a bill on Beacon Hill that would raise the minimum wage. The former stunts a still fragile economic recovery and hurts families and children, while the latter puts money back into the economy by putting in the pockets of those who need a little more.

Many of you likely know the statistic that 63 percent of Somerville students qualify for and receive free or reduced lunch, and some of your families have directly benefited from this program that aims to eliminate child hunger. But what you may not know is that if passed, a bill currently winding its way through congress would deny 200,000 children nationwide this critical nutritional support and would also end SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits for 2 million low-income U.S. residents.  Somerville would not be spared.

This kind of shortsighted cutting will hurt both the nation and Somerville in the long run. Children from working class families are most at risk for obesity and hunger, and Somerville has led the fight against both through our Shape Up Somerville program that offers healthy options at school and through our free summer breakfast and lunch program at multiple sites through the city. But if the proposed SNAP cuts pass, they would undermine our progress especially in eliminating the hunger that can impede our children’s ability to reach their greatest potential and become successful members of the workforce, all at a time when Somerville is making its largest ever investment in our schools.

The U.S. House Agricultural Committee has advanced a Farm Bill that cuts approximately $20 billion over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as “food stamps.” Almost 2 million low-income residents across the nation would lose SNAP eligibility. Some families would be bewilderingly punished for owning a modest car that they use to get to work. They should not have to choose between owning a car and receiving assistance to feed their families.

SNAP benefits are not a financial windfall. The average monthly benefit in fiscal year 2012 came to $133.31 per person – less than $5 a day. Yet this modest spending is critical at keeping those families teetering on the edge from falling into poverty and hunger.

At the same time, SNAP benefits help everyone by stimulating the economy. Moody’s Analytics found that each dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.72 in economic activity. Taxpayer money spent on SNAP directly feeds back into the economy in the form of increased government revenue. Any economic stimulus aims to stimulate the demand that create jobs, and that demand is created when we put money in the hands of people who will spend it.

Some may point to the recent state auditor’s report about SNAP benefits incorrectly going to ineligible recipients, and while there is no level of acceptable fraud and we should demand better standards and management, the amount of money and number of people who received it represent less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the total budget and total recipients. Nationally, meanwhile, SNAP fraud ranges from 3 to 5 percent. It still represents over $2 million dollars in misappropriated funds, taking money off the table for deserving recipients who need this assistance and who put it back into the economy, but we should not punish the many for the abuse of the few.

The same way SNAP benefits stimulate demand and boost the economy, raising the state minimum wage would put more money in the pockets of both working class and middle class families and ease their reliance on SNAP and other government programs. Full-time minimum wage workers in Massachusetts earn $8 per hour, which comes to just over $16,000 a year in one of the most expensive states to live in the nation.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation. The real value of the minimum wage in Massachusetts today is 24 percent below its 1968 level, when it represented $10.58 per hour in today’s dollars, according to Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center.

Then there’s the growing income gap while the income of the top 1 percent of households has risen 281 percent since 1979, the middle fifth has risen only 25 percent and the bottom fifth has risen 16 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The bill currently before the Massachusetts Senate would phase in an increase in the minimum wage over three years to $11 per hour, and then index it to inflation, ensuring that what people earn actually matches what it costs to live here.

Some point to the fact that many working minimum wage jobs live with people collecting salaries of their own, whether spouses, parents or others. That’s not an argument against raising the minimum wage; instead, it shows how raising it can also directly support middle class families, in addition to indirectly helping the middle class by creating upward wage pressure. A family of four with two adults, one child in school and another child in preschool needs $81,576 to live in Somerville according to a study by the Crittenton Women’s Union. Putting a little more in the paycheck of a household’s secondary earner makes it easier to put food on the table or buy that new pair of badly needed children’s sneakers.

Others argue that raising the minimum wage leads to less employment, but after countless studies, the weight of the evidence points to little or no change in employment levels in response to modest increases in the minimum wage.

SNAP and minimum wage represent investments in the people who live in our community. By investing now instead of cutting back, we’ll see the future dividends in the form of better outcomes for our children and a healthier, robust economy.


6 Responses to “Food stamps, minimum wage hike invest in our future”

  1. mememe says:

    “a bill currently winding its way through congress would deny 200,000 children nationwide this critical nutritional support and would also end SNAP (Food Stamps) benefits for 2 million low-income U.S. residents. ”

    Tell the whole story. They are trying to piggy back food stamps on a 1 trillion a year ($10 trillion in total) farm subsidy bill that pays farmers not to produce. These are not the small farms that lead to you believe but huge agrabusiness. Make the food stamp program a stand alone and it would pass in a second, but they try to tack it on to a huge monstrosity that is using our own tax dollars to increase the cost of food (for those same poor individuals that we now need to give food stamps).

    Minimum wage laws are why we have such large youth unemployment in this country. Why stop at increasing it to $11? If its all good, then why not make it $21? Even better, life would be peachy if everyone was paid $50 an hour. Lets do that!

  2. John says:

    Such utter nonsense. With the scandals going on in the state welfare program, noone right now should be supporting it. If the city would do something to cut taxes, and the governement would do something to cut the cost of gas, heat, groceries, etc. it would go a lot further. And when you raise the minimum wage on jobs that are often part-time, you either eliminate a job, or cut someone else’s hours. Doesn’t help anyone, except make the legislators feel good.

  3. Marilyn says:

    It’s interesting how they keep throwing around the statistic about the % of our students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Parents fill out a form, there is no verification, and schools encourage people to underreport their income. Why? The numbers of students you have qualifying for free or reduced lunch is tied in to how much you receive in Federal Aid. It’s a pointless number.

  4. Larry says:

    Joe “Nooky” Curtatone is just beefing up his quals for the liberal far-left vote when goes after Capuano’s seat. Ignore him. This article is wasted space.

  5. A.Moore says:

    “A family of four with two adults, one child in school and another child in preschool needs $81,576 to live in Somerville ” And making $11 an hour is going to accomplish that? I am still waiting to see thsi mayor do something about the increasing homeless situation each year here in Somerville. More so in the last 10 years it has gone way up. And too many people in these programs that should no be on it taking away from those who really need it.

  6. Darnell says:

    Mayor Joe is the great pontificator and panderer. It’s all about him.

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