Activists held a series of demonstrations across the country today to call on influential Democratic members of Congress to prevent cuts to the food stamp program. One of the demonstrations was in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Holding signs and waving to passing motorists about two dozen people lined State Street in front of the federal building where Congressman Richard Neal has a district office. The protest had a sense of urgency because the House is set to vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, on a bill that could end food stamp benefits to millions of people.
Tim Carpenter, Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America, said demonstrations were organized at the district offices of seven influential Democratic members of Congress including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in California, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer in Maryland and Neal in Massachusetts.
The House version of the Farm Bill includes $20 billion in cuts over the next 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. Carpenter is calling on the Democratic Congressional leadership to get behind the effort led by Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern to restore SNAP funding.
A spokesperson for Neal said in an email that the congressman agrees with the progressive activists who gathered outside his Springfield office. The statement said Neal has consistently supported federal nutrition assistance to the needy and will continue to do so.
Critics of the food stamp program claim it promotes dependency on the government and has become too susceptible to fraud. Jeff Napolitano, the western Massachusetts director for American Friends Service Committee, said more than a third of food stamp recipients have jobs but at low pay or only part-time hours.
More than 880,000 people in Massachusetts receive SNAP benefits -roughly one in eight people in the state. But in Springfield and Holyoke, where the unemployment rates hover around 10 percent, almost 45% of the population is getting food stamp benefits.
Solovia Hutchins of Springfield ,who said she was laid off from her job last October, receives $410 a month in SNAP benefits to feed herself and her three sons.
The cuts in the food stamp program proposed in the house would result in a loss of 160 million meals, according to Andrew Morehouse, who is executive director of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
The Senate version of the Farm Bill includes roughly $4 billion in cuts to the food stamp program. The vote was 66-27, with only two Democratic senators voting against the bill.