'On a conference call with reporters Friday, Labor and progressive leaders discussed the miserable choice Senate leadership has been forced to take in order to have a fully paid-for teacher funding and state aid bill. That trade-off was cutting $6.7 billion out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) beginning in 2015. Because of the deferred onset of the cuts, and the dire need of the states, progressive leaders are urging passage of the bill.
The two elements of the bill--teacher funding and Medicaid assistance (FMAP)--would save hundreds of thousands of jobs, both public and private. On the call, Chuck Lovelace, the Legislative Director for AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) stressed that 27 states and the District of Columbia have already budgeted for the new fiscal year, assuming that this money would be available, as it always has been. The $16.1 billion included in the bill will stave off some of the worst cuts the states will have to make, and will save jobs. Naomi Walker, Director of State Government Affairs for the AFL-CIO, said the $26 billion in funding “would help ease really serious state budget shortfalls," which she estimated at $300 billion over the next few years.
The $10 billion for education will mean saving about 140,000 teacher and education support jobs, Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, told reporters. States have already eliminated between 80,000 and 90,000 positions in the schools.
Because of the ripple effect of the loss of these public sector jobs, Lovelace said that "Without this money, we could go back into a recession.” As we've seen across the country, high levels of unemployment mean less demand for goods and services, which means continued hard times for small business owners and more private sector lay-offs.
None of which is to say that robbing the food assistance program is the solution any progressive wants to make, and each of the call participants stressed that they'd fight to get the money restored before the cuts go into effect in 2015. It's worth keeping in mind that this food stamp offset comes essentially at the behest of two Republicans--Olympia Snowe and Susan Collin -- whose votes are critical to break a filibuster, and who decided that the best way to keep the Republican base back home happy was to punish the poor.
Complicating matters for Reid this afternoon, when the vote takes place, is the potential absence of Dem Mark Begich. A tragic Air Force cargo plane crash last week killed three Alaska National Guard members, and Begich and Murkowski are planning to attend the funeral today. It's not clear if Begich will be able to make it back in time to vote.