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The Miami Herald tells Congress that "hunger's not a game":
Congress should leave the “hunger games” to authors and screenwriters. But too many misguided and duplicitous lawmakers insist on playing with poor and working-poor Americans’ ability to feed their families. No one will win here, least of all the people — including 22 million children nationwide — for whom hunger is a real and daily threat. [...]

That the [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] program has been an unmitigated success is irrefutable — if ensuring that Americans don’t go hungry in this land of plenty is one’s mission. That it has been a cesspool of waste, fraud and abuse, as lawmakers who want to make brutal and inhumane budget cuts contend, is simply not true. It’s a ruse, an excuse to throw poor people under the bus. Of course, these are some of the same lawmakers who thought that shutting down the government was a hoot.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012, SNAP benefits kept more than 5 million people from falling into poverty, coming in the third most helpful behind Social Security and refundable tax credits. It is a means-tested and efficient federal program that responds quickly to need. SNAP grew between 2008 and 2011, a reflection of the increasing numbers of people who lost employment. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the number of individuals receiving SNAP in an average month grew from 26.3 million in 2007 to over 46 million in 2011. SNAP enrollment growth slowed last year, however, as the economy began to recover.

Kevin W. Concannon, Under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, lays out the facts on the SNAP program:
SNAP recipients come from all walks of life. Ninety-one percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, an elderly family member, a disabled person who cannot work, or adults who are working. SNAP serves 900,000 veterans each month.

SNAP recipients are poor. The vast majority of SNAP recipients have incomes far below the Federal poverty level. For a family of four, that's just a little over $23,000 per year. Last year, the extra support provided by SNAP prevented 4.7 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, from slipping back into poverty as they worked to get back on their feet.

SNAP recipients play by the rules. Over 99 percent of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible. Over the last 15 years, USDA has reduced fraud in SNAP from 4 percent to around 1 percent.

SNAP recipients are working. In households where at least one adult is able to work, more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP.

More on the day's top stories below the fold.

On the topic of health insurance, Paul Krugman give a spin and found the site working just fine:

In short, it’s looking increasingly likely that the story from here on is going to be one of steadily better news — of growing enrollment in the federal as well as state exchanges, of people discovering either that their insurance has gotten better and cheaper or that they can afford insurance for the first time. Bit by bit these stories will percolate into the news media, replacing the sob stories about cancelled policies.

And I find myself wondering what Republicans will do. Or actually, not so much. As Martin Longman noted over the weekend, Obamacare already looks like one of those Republican obsessions — like Benghazi — where the party has convinced itself that there must be a pony winning issue hidden in there somewhere, and that if only it keeps flogging the thing, long after the public has moved on, it will eventually score big.

I’m not saying that the botched rollout is irrelevant: it has badly hurt Obama, and may do damage that lasts into the midterms. But the facts on the ground are changing, and my very strong guess is that the GOP will undo a lot of its gains by refusing to acknowledge that change.

On NSA spying, Senators Wyden, Udall and Heinrich urge Congress to act:
Congress needs to preserve the agencies’ ability to collect information that is actually necessary to guard against threats to our security. But it also needs to preserve the right of citizens to be free from unwarranted interference in their lives, which the framers understood was vital to American liberties.
On the Iran deal, The Detroit Free Press urges skeptics not to sabotage the interim deal:
It’s certainly too early to know whether the pact announced this weekend marks the beginning of an enduring thaw in Iranian relations with the West. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry both concede it will be months before the U.S. and its allies know whether Iran is seriously entertaining a permanent cessation of its efforts to develop nuclear weapons or merely seeking a respite from the sanctions that have hobbled its economy. But it’s equally premature to condemn the opening with Iran as “a historic mistake” — as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did — or to sabotage it — as some congressional critics have proposed — by restoring the sanctions that the administration has agreed to relax. After 30 years of cold war precipitated by the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, the possibilities created by a six-month hiatus outweigh the risks of diplomatic disappointment. [...]

What matters today is that two nations have interrupted their 34-year estrangement to take a step back from the brink of military confrontation. Only the most cynical observers on either side would consider that a negative development in the tinderbox known as the Middle East.

Eugene Robinson adds his take:
Critics can’t plausibly oppose the agreement on practical grounds. The real reason they are freaking out is that the agreement was made possible by the most extensive high-level bilateral contacts between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution. This has the potential to reshape the whole region — to the detriment of those vested in the status quo.
Debbie F. Plotnick writes about mental health at CNN:
For years, the mental health system has suffered from shortages of funding and political attention. Of the estimated one in five people who experience a mental health challenge each year, about 60% receive treatment. [...] Fortunately, there has been significant progress in removing barriers and expanding and equalizing insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act includes mental health care and substance use treatment as one of its 10 essential health benefits. That sends a strong message about the importance of mental health to overall health and wellness. Coupled with the just-released final regulations for the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, these changes will greatly improve access to care. [...]  We know what we need to do to head off tragedies and improve the quality of life for people with mental health conditions, and their loved ones. We need to find the political will to ensure that we address mental health with the same degree of attention as other health conditions, and provide the means and mechanisms to pay for it.
On the topic of education, Diane Ravitch explains the failure of Common Core:
Experts in early childhood education say the standards for young children are developmentally inappropriate. Teachers say that they have not had the training or resources to teach the new standards. Field-testing would have ironed out many of the bugs, but promoters of the standards insisted on fast implementation.
No one yet has estimated the costs of shifting from state standards to national standards. Duncan awarded $350 million to develop new tests for the new standards, but all of the testing will be done online.Los Angeles intends to spend $1 billion on iPads for the Common Core Technology Project, designed to help prepare for the standards. If that is the cost to only one district, how many billions will schools across the nation pay for software and hardware and bandwidth for Common Core testing? This will be a bonanza for the technology industry, but will put a strain on public school budgets in a time of austerity. The Common Core standards emphasize critical thinking and reasoning. It is time for public officials to demonstrate critical thinking and to stop the rush to implementation and do some serious field-testing.
Over at USA Today, Peter DeFazio wants to keep plane cabins free of cellphone chatter:
I understand the need for people to be connected, even on a short flight. That's why I support new options for airline passengers to safely use wireless data for non-voice services such as text messaging, e-mail and Internet browsing. But personal conversations are different. The last thing anyone needs is to be stuck between one stranger recapping his wild night in Las Vegas and another describing his latest surgery.


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