Let them eat war: budget priorities in the age of Trump

Federally funded food programs that serve women, children and seniors are on the chopping block in the new Trump budget.
Federally funded food programs that serve women, children and seniors are on the chopping block in the new Trump budget.

The budget proposal unveiled March 16 by the Trump administration, promises massive cuts to essential nutrition food programs serving some of the most vulnerable people in the country, including many elderly and disabled people who depend on food assistance programs like Meals on Wheels for their survival.

The Trump budget outline calls for a $4.7 billion reduction in the discretionary funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a roughly 21 percent decrease. This budget funds several of the most well-known and widely used Food and Nutritional Services programs in the country. These include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program, better known as WIC, which provides essential nutrition to low income mothers and children, and which received $6.6 billion in federal funding through the USDA’s discretionary budget.

Other programs that would suffer under these cutbacks include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which subsidizes food banks and soup kitchens at an extremely modest annual cost of $49 million, and the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, which expands WIC to include locally grown fresh produce that is available in farmer’s markets and would otherwise be inaccessible to WIC participants. SNAP, better known as “food stamps”, also draws funding from the discretionary pool and would likely be adversely impacted by such a severely curtailed USDA discretionary budget. Each of these programs addresses a profound and genuine need, and none are superfluous.

The Trump Administration has also proposed a cut of 17.9 percent in the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the 2018 fiscal year, which funds Meals on Wheels. In addition, the Department of Education is slated for a 14 percent cut, which could impact afterschool programs that include food services, among other services.

At the same time, the budget proposes an increase in military spending of $54 billion.

Conspicuously absent from the budget outline altogether is the education, nutrition and health program for poor preschool children known as Head Start. Head Start, which has been proven to be effective in improving outcomes for children, is seen by right-wing pundits and legislators alike as a wasteful expenditure of $8.5 billion to feed hungry children. Now the Trump administration budget is attempting to put into practice this view of this venerable program that has benefited so many families.

The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program is another long-running program omitted from the blueprint. This $200 million expenditure provides food and education services in other countries within the U.S. sphere of influence and has been noted for improving school attendance by pairing education with food. While these services represent but a drop in the bucket in comparison to the need, and are hardly adequate consolation for people who have been impoverished by U.S. imperialism, the program’s $200 million alleviate suffering. Just to compare, the F-35 fighter jet costs taxpayers between $100-$120 million per aircraft according to manufacturer Lockheed-Martin and up to $330 million per aircraft by the time it is customized for the various armed services according to the Project On Government Oversight.

Director of the Office for the Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney has tried to justify cuts to programs such as Meals on Wheels, SNAP and after-school food programs by saying they are not “not showing any results,” but the evidence clearly shows otherwise.

A review of studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health concluded that “Home-delivered meal programs improve diet quality and increase nutrient intakes among participants.” Other benefits include the oversight and human contact provided by the food delivery people.

Similarly, extensive research on Head Start has documented numerous, lifelong benefits to participants, including better physical and mental health and better performance in school.

You don’t have to be a research scientist to understand that people need to eat before they can do their best at school and work. There is no shortage of food in the United States; in fact, tons and tons of food are wasted every day. The problem is that many people living in this country cannot afford to eat enough food, especially higher quality food. A government of the people would make feeding the people a top priority. Daily access to an adequate amount of fresh and healthy food should be a constitutional right.

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