By COKIE ROBERTS AND STEVEN V. ROBERTS
Last week Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to slash food stamp spending by $39 billion over 10 years. The next day, the Washington Post ran a picture of a job fair in suburban Maryland. The caption reported that “about 1,000 applicants an hour” streamed into the event searching for work.
A few days later, Post columnist Petula Dvorak reported that when Wal-Mart opened a hiring center for six new stores in Washington, a line of job-seekers was “snaking down the sidewalk” at daybreak. One of them, 52-year-old Ronald Knight, said he was taking care of his dying mother: “A job is a job and I need a job. All I want is to work, and I’ll take anything.”
These stories tell a cruel tale. Republicans say that cutting food stamps would reduce “dependency” and push recipients into the workforce. That’s a noble goal, but right now it’s also an ideological illusion.
The official unemployment rate is 7.3 percent, but the real rate is double that. Many frustrated job-seekers have settled for part-time positions or dropped out of the market entirely. Even folks like Knight, who will “take anything,” remain unemployed.
The same Republicans who voted to cut food stamps acknowledge the problem when it suits their political purpose. Last June, Speaker John Boehner charged that the “American people are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’”
The Speaker can’t have it both ways. If jobs are that scarce, then food stamps are needed more than ever.
One group of Republicans knows that to be true: governors. Under current law, able-bodied adults with no dependents can only receive food stamps for three months over three years. That limit can now be waived in times of economic hardship, and 45 states, including many red ones, have applied for those waivers. But the House bill would eliminate that option.