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What’s Good for the Goose

Conservatives Should Practice What They Preach

SOURCE: AP/M. Spencer Green

Lisa Zilligen, a full-time student at Loyola Univeristy in New Orleans, feeds her three young children using food stamps.

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Any day now Governor of Texas Rick Perry is expected to sign into law a bill that would require pregnant women to have a sonogram and to hear a physician describe the fetus before they are allowed to have an abortion. A similar bill is waiting to be signed in Florida.

Many states across the country are doing their best to find ways to limit access to abortions for women. In Oklahoma, for example, legislators have even gone so far as to amend nutrition legislation to prohibit Planned Parenthood from administering nutrition assistance to low-income expectant mothers. The state law would make nutrition vouchers inaccessible to thousands of mothers as part of the federal Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, program, in the state.

But the new law in Texas is particularly intrusive and condescending in its attempt to affect the personal decisions of women and to delay their access to a legal medical procedure. Although this bill should never be enacted—especially in a state that celebrates personal freedom—conservatives should practice what they preach by taking this “sonogram philosophy” seriously when making decisions that affect children outside of the womb.

The looming debate over the federal budget for the next fiscal year beginning in October and long-term deficit reduction is just the place to start. The budget resolution for FY 2012 passed by the House of Representatives recently proposes radical restructuring and massive cuts to dynamic safety net and social insurance programs such as food stamps, the WIC program, and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. As conservative legislators consider the House budget and other deficit reduction measures over the next few weeks and months, their “sonogram philosophy” should require them to come face to face with the consequences of such devastating cuts on our nation’s most vulnerable children before they cast their votes.

In particular, before they vote for cuts of historic proportions, they should be compelled to do the following three things.

Take the food stamp challenge

When considering a proposal to block grant the food stamp, or SNAP program, which would likely result in a benefit decrease or long waiting lists for hungry families in many states, conservative members of Congress should feed their families on a food stamp budget for a week. The average daily SNAP benefit per household clocks in at around $9 per day, leaving many families who depend on SNAP no choice but to purchase cheap and empty calories and avoid healthy fresh fruits and vegetables which are more expensive.

Cutting or block granting the SNAP program would have devastating consequences for families like Imani’s who would go hungry without the help of the program. Hunger and food insecurity affect the educational performance and health of too many American children. Undernutrition affects children’s ability to learn. Chronic hunger therefore results in persistent learning difficulties, which result in long-term harm to children. Hunger also contributes to many health problems, including obesity. In 2009, more than 40 million Americans received SNAP benefits.

Visit a local WIC office

The Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC program, is a federal program that provides a host of services to low-income pregnant women, new moms, and young infants and children up to 5 years old. WIC services include vouchers to purchase healthy foods, breastfeeding support, heath care referrals, and nutrition education. With one out of every two newborns depending on WIC, the program, like SNAP, is a lifeline for countless families and children and has made a difference in the lives of mothers like Emily.

In fact, it is estimated that to-date, WIC services have saved over 200,000 newborns from dying at birth. At a time when WIC directors like Margaret are seeing an increased need for services, members of Congress should stop by their local WIC office to see WIC’s impact first-hand before voting for discretionary spending cuts or caps which would likely cut WIC funding.

Spend some time in a family homeless shelter

Housing has become increasingly unaffordable, making it impossible for a minimum wage worker to be able to afford housing in any state in the union. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (or Section 8) helps many working families keep a roof over their heads. Despite the great need for this assistance, the program is only able to serve approximately 1 in 4 eligible families. When programs such as Housing Choice fall short, many families must rely on the supports of last resort—homeless shelters and other services. Lyn Grotke is one of them.

Annually, 474,000 people in families find themselves in shelters while far more are in other types of temporary housing situations. The impact on the well-being of children cannot be understated as homelessness could result in children living in overcrowded and unhealthy living situations. Homelessness also is associated with greater likelihoods of hunger, health problems, and academic challenges. Conservative members of Congress should spend some time in a homeless shelter to understand just how close some American families are to destitution.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander

Before voting for drastic budget cuts, conservatives should consider what type of future they want for America’s children. By experiencing first-hand what these programs mean to our future generations, conservatives may reconsider their many budget cuts to programs that provide vital food and shelter assistance to low-income parents and their children.

Surely a legislator who had to see the daily struggles of a single mother trying to work at least one full-time job while providing for her child would reconsider defunding WIC. Surely a legislator who had to watch parents provide an adequate number of healthy meals to their growing, hungry children would reconsider cutting funding for food stamps. And surely a legislator who spent some time in a homeless shelter would think again about cutting this program.

Fortunately, taking these conscientious actions to see the real-life consequences of budget cuts would not require expensive sonograms—it would just take a walk around some of the neighborhoods in these legislators’ own states or districts. What’s more, there are clear alternatives, such as the list developed by the Center for American Progress of 10 tax breaks for the wealthy that could be reduced or eliminated to continue funding 10 critical federal safety net programs for our nation’s least fortunate citizens. So here’s to hoping conservatives embrace the full measure of their “sonogram philosophy” and then return to recalculate their budget priorities.

Marta Cook is a Research Assistant with the Faith and Progressive Policy program at the Center for American Progress. Katie Wright is a Special Assistant to the Half in Ten Campaign at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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