There is an issue that is weighing on my heart. An estimated 1 Million adults may lose their food stamp benefits if they can’t find a job within three months. This comes because the federal work requirements for food stamps return after being placed on hiatus due to the Great Recession. According to an Associated Press report, most who will be affected are single adults and are “less likely…to have high school diplomas and valid driver’s licenses.” Some are “homeless, recently released from prison or dealing with trauma from military service, abuse or violence in their communities” making it more difficult for them to find employment. These vulnerable but “able bodied” adults without children make up just 10% of the entire food stamp population. The federal government spends nearly $70 billion per year on food stamps, which sounds like a lot but it is less than 2% of the national budget. And when compared to the military where we spend over $600 billion per year – it may not seem like so much.
It is interesting to compare the description of those adults in jeopardy of losing their food stamp benefits with that of the young adult military recruits who are deemed unfit for duty.
According to a Time Magazine article, “Approximately 71% of the 34 million 17-to-24-year-olds in the U.S. would not qualify for military service.” That’s seven out of ten young adults. A 2009 report “Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve”, states that the three primary reasons these potential recruits are unfit is because they have a poor education, or a criminal record or they are physically unfit because of weight or other health problems such as asthma, mental health issues or ADHD. Again – we are provided with a picture of a vulnerable population saddled with issues so severe that Uncle Sam won’t allow them to enlist in the military. I find it ironic that our government won’t “hire” young adults for military service because they are unfit - but then turn around and require adults in very similar circumstances to find a job or risk losing their food stamp benefits.
This brings me to the issue about Johnson Controls. You may have read the announcement that Johnson Controls will be moving its corporate headquarters to Ireland and “saving” an estimated $150 million per year in taxes paid to the United States. This is the same Johnson Controls that is a major supplier to the auto industry and petitioned Congress to bail the industry out when it was teetering. I think the bail out was a good idea. It saved jobs and saved a valuable sector of the American economy. But it did cost U.S. taxpayers $9.3 billion. In addition to benefiting from the auto industry bailout, Johnson Controls also received nearly $300 Million of taxpayer dollars to help subsidize its production of hybrid automotive batteries. The subsidies to Johnson Controls and the auto industry were probably the right thing to do.
In a similar vein – providing food stamps to needy people is also the right thing to do. We give people the means for basic survival. We spur the economy since food stamp dollars go directly back into food industry businesses and indirectly support American farms. But somehow, we see these individuals receiving less than two hundred dollars a month worth of food stamps differently. We hold them strictly accountable. But the multi-national and highly profitable corporation which received hundreds of millions in U.S. taxpayer subsidy and finds a way to duck their annual tax obligation is treated with impunity. If only Johnson Controls had received food stamps – maybe they would be held more accountable. At least held as accountable as a hungry adult who is so vulnerable that the US military would find them unable to serve.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.