All In   |  September 20, 2013

Food stamps: Rhetoric vs. reality

Conservatives have tried to paint food stamp recipients as entitled, fraudulent moochers, but the facts tell a different story. Ezra Klein talks with author Kayla Williams about her experience with food stamps, and the House's vote to slash assistance.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> why isn't a person who has been unemployed for more than three months, doesn't have a kid, meets the income requirement, in a very high unemployment year, why should that person not get 100 bucks a month from the government?

>> what this does is maybe the dead person should get the 100 bucks a month. the lottery winner.

>> you need to throw off 4 million people.

>> the dead people are the people you're getting rid of.

>> dead people are not actually catching those checks.

>> i can't believe these things, man. that was chris speaking last night about the house's food stamp vote. if you're going to believe the rhetoric out there from some conservatives, food stamps are for the entitled, possibly dead moochers trying to rip off the government. plus, got a 40 billioncut yesterday. the reality is quite different. food stamps play just a huge role in helping actual living americans out of poverty. it keeps about 4 million people above the poverty line . prevents millions more from sinking deeper into poverty. 15% of the population are getting help from food stamps each month. children and teenagers make up almost half of that number. children and teenagers. about 10% are are seniors. and the average benefit is only about $133 a month. to quality, you could only have earnings 30% higher than the federal poverty level . $30,000 for a family of four. but those are by the way not lottery winners, but none of those stopped house republicans from slashing $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade. it doesn't hurt shady lottery winners or the dead, but kids and the elderly, disabled, low wage workers and members of our military. a post on a blog made rounds today. my name is jason. i'm a 35-year-old white combat veteran. i'm on food stamps . he's worked his entire life and is now on food stamps . it is what is keeping him from going hungry. he isn't alone. military families alone redeem about $100 million in food aid . millions of people in poverty fall into three categories. you can call them the lucky category, since conservatives seem to think people on welfare hit some sort of jackpot. those living paycheck to paycheck, they're just a little bit lucky. those living unemployment check to unemployment check, but those living second of the month to second of the month, food stamp group, they have hit the jackpot. the second of the month being the time when funds get deposited on to the ebt card, at least in new york. for those who have never been fortunate enough to hit the power ball . joining me now is kayla williams , author of leadoff my rifle more than you. young and female in the u.s. ar army.

>> i was on them out of and on when i was a kid. my mom was like so many others, among whom take advantage of the benefit, single mom and well fell on financial hard times and it kept me from going to bed hungry.

>> did you find the allotment was lavish. it created a real huge food budget?

>> no. it didn't. supplemented by some lovely government cheese . sometimes, we had jalapeno flavored cheese, so that was exciting. but not a lavish benefit and something that was something to be ashamed of and that stigma i think is another thing that's really difficult. it seems as if the republicans want that shame and stigma, but is that something we want to do to children, to make them ashamed of their parents? doesn't seem like good family values to me.

>> in the bush administration was real supportive of the program. part of moving it towards on ebt cards. instead of getting this recognizable sort of voucher, you have what h looks like a credit card . very helpful. there's now a pushback. just gone way, way, way too far. what do you think about some of that transition away from that stigma? hue do you think that affects folks?

>> i think that is a good thing. you have for example, military personnel and guarded reserve personnel having a harder time keeping their jobs between deployments, discrimination and these are people we want to hold up as heroes in our society. do we want to make them feel ashamed for needing an extra helping hand ? no, we don't. if they're having trouble, we don't need to make them feel ashamed of needing a little extra helping hand . these are people who served honor bly and with pride. any kid doesn't need to have that stigma of feeling like there's something wrong with them. to bring that back today is a move in the wrong direction.

>> has there been a sharp rise in use of food stamps in the military after 9/11?

>> not necessarily among active duty. they've gotten pretty significant pay increases over that time. but use of snap benefits in commissaries have gone up and people who can use commissaries, also retirees and again, guard and vefr personnel.

>> when you actually get into these debates, you have a $40 billion cut in house of representatives yesterday. one you don't hear from are veterans lobbies. but don't seem to engage that. any thoughts as to why?

>> i don't. but i'm trying to change that. why i'm here speaking with you right now.

>> where do you think this goes from now? the senate probably is going to pick it up. do you think that the changing is impressions of who's on food stamps as your colleague did today, as you are doing, do you think that is part of this political battle?

>> i hope that it will be. i hope that more people like me, who have been on food assistance at some point in their lives will come forward and say you're talking about people like me. you're saying that kids like i was should go to bed hungry. is that the kind of country we are? if you don't believe that's the kind of country we should be, you need to call your elected representatives and let them know that this is not the type of place where we left children go to the hungry.

>> coming up, i will tell you why a very small part of me, sometimes, a very big part of me, feels sorry for john boehner .