Like many families at the time, House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanLook to history before making SNAP program cuts GOP debt ceiling uncertainty grows Five goals for Republicans this summer MORE’s family emigrated to America from Ireland to escape the Potato Famine.
Though Ireland was part of the prosperous United Kingdom, and exported huge amounts of food to England, over less than a decade beginning in the mid-1840’s, a million people in Ireland died and another million emigrated as a result of the crisis. The government did nothing to ensure relief to the lowest earning citizens. In fact, during the years of the Famine, cultivation of crops in Ireland increased by over a million acres in order to feed the wealthy in the United Kingdom.
Now a professor at Northwestern University, I spent the first six years after university working in Ireland where the lessons of hunger in a time of wealth still resonate after more than 160 years. The great historian of Irish history, F.S.L. Lyons, wrote that the Famine “still remains an appalling phenomenon” that has affected “all the generations that have lived in Ireland since those terrible years.” Part of the pain emanates from the disparity between the rich and poor.
In a move with parallels too similar not to compare about the disparity between rich and poor, the recently released Trump budget aims to cut food stamps by approximately 193 billion over the next ten years, cutting 25 percent of the cost. And, we need only look to the circumstances under which the food stamp program was originally created to draw further parallels and take heed of history’s lessons.
When the first pilot program started under Kennedy, it was patterned on a Great Depression program that fed over 20 million people when more food was produced in the United States than could be eaten, yet many couldn’t afford to buy it.
In 2005, 26 million people per month were active in the program, or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition…