The perfect storm of austerity policies and US imperialism sends billions of dollars to Ukraine but ends pandemic era emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
This article was originally published in Hood Communist.
As the country ushers in commemorations for ‘International Women’s Month’, 42 million households have been hit with a significant reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits impacting the ability of millions of mothers to feed their children. In December 2022, Congress voted to end the pandemic emergency allotments after passing the government funding package the previous year. After nearly three years, the program that temporarily increased federal SNAP benefits for low-income families came to an end on March 1st.
Eighteen states already ended the pandemic increase in SNAP benefits before March. The remaining 32 states and the District of Columbia, still providing the emergency allotments, now average a $95 per month loss in money for groceries. Some families, depending on family size and income, are losing hundreds of dollars. Without the pandemic boost, the average SNAP benefit will come to about $6 per person per day, instead of about $9, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Biden Administration has bragged about making significant impacts in the reduction of child poverty in the U.S. by providing SNAP recipients in participating states the maximum monthly amount eligible for their family size with the emergency allotments. In addition to the Child Tax Credit, the emergency allotments eased some financial strain felt by poor working-class communities during the first years of the pandemic. A census survey showed many low-income parents said that the extra money helped pay for regular expenses. However, poverty and food insecurity would likely jump back up with the end of both the monthly child tax credit and the emergency allotments during a time when poor and working-class families are dealing with low wages, inflation, and rising food costs.
It goes without question that SNAP benefit reductions will have the biggest impact on African single mothers in colonized communities who receive these benefits to feed their children. As subjects of the internal colony, African mothers living in poverty have had a long continuous battle with “government assistance”. From the days of “the welfare queen” (vilifying African mothers in mainstream U.S. society) to the impacts of the racially charged Welfare Reform Act (serving as sanctions within colonized communities), the socioeconomic systems that produce poverty have served as tools to propagate the direct neglect of Black communities. Ending the COVID-era addition to the SNAP benefit means a lot more families will fall deeper into poverty and a lot more children will go hungry.
The Biden Administration is making a choice to plunge millions of households into poverty while vowing continuous monetary support to keep the proxy war in Ukraine going. As the contradictions of capitalism sharpen more and more in the U.S., forcing more empathy evoking propaganda in support of the war, it must be understood that Ukraine is a manufactured crisis. The Black Alliance For Peace notes, “the stand-off between the U.S./ NATO forces and the Russian Federation with the Ukrainians, including those in the Eastern portion of the country (that the media refers to as “pro-Russia separatists”), did not evolve organically but was the result of conscious decisions on the part of the Biden Administration.” As the dire economic situation in the U.S. intensifies due to bipartisan austerity policies, the U.S. Congress has chosen time and time again to direct nearly more than $100 billion in assistance to Ukraine.
Recently, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen traveled to Kyiv, Ukraine to promise even more support. During her trip, she made the following remarks,
“Our economic support is helping keep the Ukrainian government and critical service providers operating under extraordinary circumstances… First, our funds are helping keep government civil servants on the job… Second, our economic support is keeping essential public services running… Our funds help pay for emergency personnel: from firefighters who answer the call when missiles strike to medical professionals who treat sick and wounded civilians. They help fund teachers – at this school and many others – so they can continue to educate Ukraine’s youth. Our assistance also helps provide aid to Ukrainians who are bearing the biggest brunt of the war, such as those internally displaced… Third, we are working with our partners through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to keep basic infrastructure and supply chains working… We are providing access to working capital for businesses in critical sectors like agriculture, energy, and transportation… “
The continuous rhetorical misdirection coming out of the Biden Administration emphasizing supporting “democracy” and “sovereignty” intentionally omits Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signing over his country’s sovereignty with a memorandum of understanding to BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory, a U.S. firm. Furthermore, the actual fracturing infrastructure in this country and the material conditions of U.S. citizens are being ignored to continue to propagandize a war with the very real potential to be a global catastrophe. The callous decision-making leaving millions in the U.S. destitute has pushed more people towards anti-war positions in the U.S. It has also created a vacuum for right- opportunism as the urgency of the times begins to be felt more.
What does this mean for Africans?
The normalization of austerity within this imperialist empire plummeting large sectors of society into poverty must be organized against. The state constantly adapts to the rage of unorganized masses and is preparing for the backlash with overt militarization of local policing like we are witnessing with “Cop City” where crime is used as the perfect justification for its construction. “Crime” must be understood as a byproduct of the conditions of an internal colony that would make millions of people unable to feed their children. Advantageous corporations and private industries continue to raise prices during a period of inflation (caused by war) that could end with negotiations if not for interference from NATO.
The flippant use of “democracy” to support a proxy war while basic rights—like the ability to feed one’s children—- becomes bipartisan campaign rhetoric signals the necessity of institution building and emphasis on community control. Not only community control of education, health, or over-policing but food sovereignty, as well. Organizing must emphasize base-building and creating networks so that these pressing issues aren’t allowed to get siphoned off into “single issues” but legitimate and sustainable programs from collective ideas, instead. The only solution is building political power for people(s)-centered human rights and self-determination through the organized masses.
Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.