NEWS DAY | Let them eat cake – cutting food stamps / Minnesota Somalis in the news

People can’t afford to eat, so Congress is set to vote Tuesday to balance the budget by cutting food stamps. They plan to cut an average of $15 from the average $124 per person food stamp benefit that 40.8 million Americans use to buy bread and milk.  (Food stamps are now called SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.)

Dems are backing the food stamp cuts because it’s the only way they can pass the Medicaid and state and local government aid, because the Republicans insist that they won’t accept any increase in the deficit. The solution to Republican intransigence is to cut food stamps that pay for Johnny’s milk in order to pay for Johnny’s grandpa’s medicines and the salary of Johnny’s teacher.

The measure promises cash-strapped governors $16.1 billion to help meet Medicaid payments next year, and $10 billion would go to state and local school boards to preserve teacher jobs.

Food stamp use has risen every month for the past year and a half, all across the country. In Minnesota, food stamp use in May 2010 was 21.9 percent higher than in May 2009.

Some 438,226 Minnesotans, living in 213,442 households used food stamps in May 2010. The average monthly food stamp benefit, per Minnesota household, was $237.96 in Minnesota, with an average of $114.18 per Minnesota food stamp recipient.

Minnesota Reps John Kline and Michele Bachmann are, predictably, denouncing the whole package, not because it takes money from food stamps, but because it actually gives money to the states to pay for health care and state and local government salaries. Part of the GOP position is opposition to salaries of government workers – described by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as “hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and policemen … some of our most selfless and bravest Americans,” and by a spokesperson for Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, as “spending for labor unions attached to a job-killing tax increase.”

Paul Krugman explains:

Any time you try to talk about the fiscal plight of state and local government, you get spittle-flecked denunciations of unions and their crazy pay packages.

So, how much truth is there to this? State and local employees are paid more, on average, than private-sector workers – about 13 percent more, according to this analysis by John Schmitt. But as Schmitt shows, that’s an apples and oranges comparison: state and local workers are much better educated and somewhat older than private-sector workers, and once you correct for that the comparison actually seems to go the other way. …

Yes, firefighters and police get pretty generous pay packages; they also pull people from burning buildings.

Some Democrats hope to restore the food stamp cuts after Congress comes back from the August recess. The House probably won’t have any trouble passing that bill, but its prospects in the Senate, held hostage by the Republicans, don’t look good.

Somalis are in the news in Minnesota for many reasons:

The FBI says that two Somali women were raising money for al-Shabaab, and the women maintain they were collecting for charity – but whatever the ultimate outcome of the case, it means less money for mosques during the prime fund-raising season that comes with Ramadan (beginning in about a week). MPR reports:

Every month, officials at the Dawah Mosque in St. Paul have to make a $10,000 payment on the mosque’s no-interest mortgage. That money usually comes in donations from hundreds of mosque members.

The Dawah’s leader, Imam Hassan Mohamud, said that on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week women walking door to door collected $500 each day from Somali households. On Thursday, the women collected just $150.

In St. Cloud, where racism and attacks on Somalis have been in the news, two Somali men are running for the school board. MPR again:

One is running in a primary election that will narrow down the candidates from seven to six to get in the general election in November, while the other is running in a special election (that will narrow the candidates from three to two to replace a resigning school board member.

And, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, a story on the busy days and nights of the only certified Somali court interpreter in the country:

There are 69 registered Somali interpreters that can be called upon by Minnesota courts. These men and women have passed an ethics exam, which measures their understanding of the role of interpreters (to be the voice and ears of people with limited English skills – not to give legal advice).

They have not passed the difficult oral certification exam, which state officials say ensures quality interpreters are working in the justice system. …

Only Elmi has passed it.

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