How to Lose the Single Mom Vote in NJ: Tell Them to Get Off of Food Stamps

New Jersey’s GOP Senate candidate thinks mothers should just get a job.

There's a special election in the Garden State, so queue up the crazy statements about poor people and food benefits, Steve Lonegan!

Aug 26, 2013· 2 MIN READ
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other publications.

With a single turn of a phrase, New Jersey’s GOP Senate candidate Steve Lonegan probably lost whatever remaining support he had from single moms after a Saturday appearance on MSNBC’s Up With Steve Kornacki.

“We never had to have SNAP, when I was a kid,” said the former mayor of Bogata, NJ, who is vying to replace the late Democrat Frank Lautenberg. “OK, so, this thing that every single mother is the poster child for the welfare state is nonsense—I know a lot of single moms go out to work and do very, very well for themselves.”

Here, watch the clip for yourself:

One working single mom took to the website and shot back.

“I am a single mother on food stamps,” she wrote. “I work 40 hours a week, I go to school full time (I’m a nursing student and have a 3.98 gpa), and my ex only pays $150 in child support. Explain to me what else it is he thinks I’m supposed to do supplement my income to be able to afford and/or deserve help with my grocery bill.”

According to data compiled by the United States Department of Agriculture for SNAP participation in 2011, just nine percent of all households receiving the benefit included a married head of household and accounted for 19 percent of all SNAP households with children. Of the 5.5 million single-adult SNAP households with children, 40 percent reported earnings (2.2 million), 635,000 are disabled (635,000), and 10 percent receive Social Security (535,000), indicating either an elderly head of household or the death of one of the parents.

When you dig into the data further, one finds that Lonegan’s statement ignores numerous studies—including one from earlier this year—that have found SNAP recipients who are eligible to work do—overwhelmingly so. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in January that in families with children, 87 percent of working-age, non-disabled adults had been employed in the previous year.

“Every single mother in the USA, Mr. Lonegan’s mother included, is a superhero and deserves everyone’s deepest respect and support,” said Dr. John Cook, Senior Research Scientist at Children’s HealthWatch. “That’s why it is such a wonderful thing that SNAP is available to any family with children that is eligible to receive it, whether a single-parent family or two-parent family. Because single-parent families eligible for SNAP can receive the nutritional support they need for their children and themselves it increases all our chances for a prosperous future.”

In June, we reported that children who benefit from SNAP early on in life have better health outcomes than children who do not, and that cutting nutrition programs disproportionately affects these low-income kids.

How U.S. Senators feel about nutrition assistance is of utmost importance to the future of the program. In June, the Senate approved a Farm Bill that called for $4 billion in cuts from the SNAP program. The bill now sits with the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republican lawmakers have promised to push for an incredible $40 billion in SNAP cuts—and the House has taken steps to separate federal farm aid from food assistance altogether.

Lonegan and his Democratic rival, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), could not be further apart on the issue of nutrition assistance. Last fall, Booker—an ardent supporter of a strong SNAP program—challenged a Twitter follower critical of the program to join him in living on the benefit for a week to dispel stereotypes about SNAP and help people “to grow in compassion and understanding.” The experience seemed to impact Booker profoundly.

“I will end the SNAP Challenge today but my attention and commitment to addressing food access does not stop here,” Booker wrote on his blog after completing his #SNAPChallenge week in early December. “I ask you to join me and those in your community who are working towards a just and sustainable food system that nourishes everyone.”