Update: At the same time I published this article, Jon Geeting published “#PAGov: The Program Allyson Schwartz Traded Food Stamp Cuts For Doesn’t Even Work” and it says:
But a new study in Health Affairs by Steven Cummins, Ellen Flint, and Stephen Matthews says that program doesn’t even work:
National and local policies to improve diet in low-income US populations include increasing physical access to grocery stores and supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods. In a pilot study that evaluated the impacts of opening a new supermarket in a Philadelphia community considered a “food desert”—part of the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative—we found that the intervention moderately improved residents’ perceptions of food accessibility. However, it did not lead to changes in reported fruit and vegetable intake or body mass index. The effectiveness of interventions to improve physical access to food and reduce obesity by encouraging supermarkets to locate in underserved areas therefore remains unclear.
Since Allyson Schwartz took her controversial vote on the Farm Bill that included an $8.7 billion cut from the food stamp program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), progressive writers such as Will Bunch from the Philadelphia Daily News, Jon Geeting from Keystone Politics and myself have weighed in on the issue. Will Bunch and Jon Geeting both pointed out that Allyson Schwartz fought for, and got, an amendment added to the Farm Bill that provides $125 million for a program that tackles food deserts, and they both noted that Schwartz did not have to vote for the legislation because the food stamp cuts affect 175,000 Pennsylvanians, which is bad politics for running a statewide race.
On Friday February 8, an Allyson Schwartz campaign staffer went online and questioned progressives for criticizing Allyson Schwartz’s vote on the legislation. In their statement, the campaign staffer brought up the fact that progressive senators, such as Bernie Sanders, Al Franken and Tom Harkins, and members from the Congressional Black Caucus in the House voted for the bill “because it was a smart move to protect food stamps.” The full statement reads:
“People who think of themselves as progressives are criticizing Allyson Schwartz for voting for the Farm Bill. They apparently have not noticed Bernie Sanders, Al Franken, Tom Harkins and the Congressional Black Caucus in the House voted for the bill because it was a smart move to protect food stamps in the future.
And Allyson had a particular good reason to vote for it because in a very difficult political climate she had an important provision added to the bill. It will take an idea invented in Pennsylvania nationwide using public funds to help bring supermarkets to bring affordable and fresh food to low-income communities.”
While the Schwartz campaign staffer has a point that Bernie Sanders, Al Franken and Tom Harkins are champions of progressive causes, those three progressive senators aren’t running for governor in Pennsylvania. When defending his vote on the Farm Bill and how it would benefit his constituents, Senator Bernie Sanders expressed serious concerns on the attacks to the food stamp program, which is something that Representative Schwartz neglected to do in the time following her vote. In his media statement, Sanders said:
“I am very disappointed that this bill makes $8.6 billion in cuts over the next decade to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. While the final bill steps back from $40 billion in food stamp cuts that House Republicans had demanded, it is both morally and economically wrong to cut assistance to families in a very difficult economy.
Then Senator Sanders went on to address how he was working to restore the food stamp cuts in his home state:
“I am very pleased that Governor Shumlin has assured me that he will work with the Vermont Legislature to prevent cuts in food stamps for Vermont families and seniors receiving home heating assistance.”
According to Philadelphia native and local waitress Dina Yarmus, who is a member with UNITE HERE and holds a chair with the Coalition of Labor Union Women, “this vote will keep food from the hungry. It will hurt women who disproportionately are impoverished.” Yarmus went on to say:
Her campaign trumpeting that legitimate progressives joined her in this vote is a bit hard to stomach. First, because these are the same progressives she fought on health care and so many other bills, but more fundamentally because Allyson Schwartz has been a part of developing the terrain on which progressives are forced to compromise, because the Third Way and New Democrat Coalition wings of the party that she is of, offer a non-stop threat of triangulation – boxing progressives out of influence. Indeed, it was only after another candidate John Hanger along with PCCC publicly challenged her to resign from Third Way, that she did.
When speaking about Allyson Schwartz’s neglect to address the SNAP cuts in her recent media releases, Yarmus went on to say:
That is what is the most chilling, what this foreshadows about the Schwartz Campaign’s general election strategy. What could possibly be the general election strategy for a candidate who is considered “too liberal” on social issues, but cannot with credibility claim to be a champion of working people – particularly a candidate who hasn’t generated significant support in the African-American community? Is this not a signal that she intends to win “Reagan Democrats” by parading her willingness to be tough on the downtrodden?
In a statement released by John Hanger on the Farm Bill, the gubernatorial candidate recalled that his “first job after college was as anti-hunger organizer. I worked to stop Congress from cutting food stamps and nutrition programs in 1981, when Ronald Reagan proposed massive food program cuts,” and “saw how poor families must choose between heat, food, and medicine. Those cruel choices still are a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.” Hanger went on to explain that “[t]his Farm Bill takes $65 per month out of the mouths of 175,000 poor Pennsylvania families who often don’t have food at the end of the month, even before these cruel cuts are implemented,” and that he “would have joined Senator Casey, Congressman Fattah, and Congressman Brady in opposing the Farm Bill, because of the massive food stamp cuts that especially targeted Pennsylvania’s poor families.”
This primary election is a gut check for liberals and progressives across the Commonwealth. With income inequality hitting all time highs in the wake of the 2007 Wall Street collapse, are we really willing to nominate someone who believes in cutting our way to prosperity? Are we really willing to nominate someone who has stood with Wall Street many more times than they have stood with progressive champions like Bernie Sanders, Tom Harkins or Al Franken? If you are looking for that answer, look no further than what Dina Yarmus said: “We are amidst an inequality crisis and the last thing we need is a Democratic nominee for Governor willing to cut food stamps.”