“…I sat in a room with a member of Congress who stood up in front of a, a group of rural, uh, of residents from Missouri and said, you know, uh, I’m against, uh, the food stamp program because they’re giving food stamps to, uh, prisoners, people who are in prison. Look, I’m a dumb Methodist preacher [laughter] and even I [laughter] can come to conclude that if you give food stamps to somebody in prison do you, do you then drive them to Safeway? [laughter, applause] Hmmm. [laughter] Uh, and yet, and when you go home, just talk to somebody, some of the people. They’ll, yeah, their, their giving them to prisoners. I mean, it makes no sense, but they spread that kind of thing. I mean, it, it makes no sense…” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, St. Louis, August 13, 2013.
Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D), in Washington:
….Mr. Speaker, I probably don’t need five minutes to say what I would like to say.
Uh, this is a very sad moment for the most powerful nation in the history of this planet. We are on the verge of a government shutdown over ideology.
I can remember nineteen ninety-five, I was the mayor of Kansas City when the government shut down. And the impact was Hurculean, not just here in Washington, but around the country and around the world.
And if we are proud to be Americans it means we pay our bills. We are the only nation that still allows a vote by a legislature on paying our bills. Most countries won’t do that because they don’t need any disruption, uh, in paying their debts. We’re close to declaring to the whole world that we don’t pay our bills.
The other part that’s troublesome is this whole issue of SNAP, or food stamps. And there are so many myths that roll around that it just turns my stomach.
I didn’t live in a house with running water or electricity until I was seven years old. We moved in public housing, my father worked three jobs. He eventually was able to buy a home. I know what it’s like to be poor. I know what it’s like to struggle. My father was able to send my mother to school, when I was in the eighth grade, to college. And then all four of his children graduated college, two with post graduate degrees.
And so, I am always insulted when I hear all of these irreverent and nasty comments about poor people. And we spread this stuff around the country to the point of absurdity. We spread lies, where people go into stores and they buy alcohol with food stamps. Well, we don’t food stamps anymore. We have cards, economic benefit transfer cards. And in spite of the lies that people tell, you can’t buy alcohol with cards. You cannot buy lottery tickets. I’ve heard members of Congress, this Congress, tell people that they know that people in prison are getting food stamps. And they’ve seen people buy alcohol with food stamp cards. It doesn’t work. And it divides and damages this nation.
The other lie. Over seventy percent of the people receiving SNAP benefits are the elderly, the disabled, and children. And we are against helping them? Another twenty-five percent are people who work every day, just, they can’t make enough to survive.
I remember growing up and my mother would say, you know, eat everything in your plate, there’s starving kids in Africa. Well, I’m not sure how eating everything in my plate helped them, I’m still struggling with that. Uh, but, uh, there’s starving people, uh, not far from here. And the government of the United States is saying, we’re going, we’d rather shut down, we’d rather shut down than to have a program that deals with the people who are in trouble. I just heard, a few moments ago, about a hundred and one year old person who’s, uh, daily meals, meal on wheels, have been reduced. A hundred and one years old. And people are celebrating that?
Mr. Speaker, this is a sad, sad day. And by the end of next week when we are shut down it’s going to be much sadder….
One needs to actually possess empathy to be sad for others. Don’t hold your breath.