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Biden Quietly Preparing for Food Stamp Increase Without Congress

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The Biden administration is quietly laying the groundwork for a long-term increase in food aid for tens of millions of Americans, without going through the ordeal of a fight with congressional Republicans.

The instrument is an obscure U.S. Department of Agriculture shopping list used to determine food stamp benefits, known as the market basket.

A review of the so-called Thrifty Food Plan, ordered by Biden two days after he took office, could trigger an automatic increase in benefits as soon as Oct. 1, a day after expiration of a temporary 15% boost in food stamp payments that Biden included in his $1.9 trillion Covid-relief package.

James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky, said the re-evaluation “could result in an upward adjustment of 20% or more in the benefits.” That would amount to roughly a $136-a-month increase in the maximum benefit for a family of four, which was $680 before the temporary pandemic-related increase.

“This is really meaningful,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor who was chairman of President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “It’s one of the bigger things government can do for poverty without Congress.”

The reappraisal culminates a years-long campaign by anti-hunger advocates to reassess the market basket. The value hasn’t been increased other than adjustments for inflation for six decades.

The move is emblematic of a broad commitment to anti-poverty programs across the Biden administration. Such initiatives were part of the Covid-relief package and included in Biden’s more recent proposals for infrastructure and social program spending. In April, the Agriculture Department extended a universal free school lunch program tied to pandemic relief through the entire 2021-22 school year.

It’s a sharp reversal from the Trump administration, which tried to limit eligibility for food aid, though the proposed restrictions were overturned by courts. Food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, once enjoyed broad bipartisan support. They’ve evolved into a partisan flashpoint in recent years, as conservatives fought to shrink the program. House Republicans tried to impose cuts in 2013 and 2018, the last two times the program was reauthorized as part of the five-year Farm Bill.

Biden often speaks of one of the most jarring images of pandemic-year economic collapse — cars lined up for miles outside food banks to wait for a box of groceries — and invoked it again in his first address to Congress as he explained the importance of anti-hunger initiatives in his vision for the country. “I didn’t ever think I’d see that in America,” he told millions watching at home.

The pandemic stirred public concern over hunger as seemingly secure middle- and working-class families suddenly became vulnerable. By December, one in seven U.S. households reported not having had enough to eat sometimes or often in the prior week, and in January 41.8 million Americans were on food stamps — 4.7 million, or 12.8%, more than a year earlier.

The racial reckoning following the police killing of George Floyd further energized concern among Democrats, since food insecurity disproportionately hits Black, Hispanic and Native American children, along with the elderly and people with disabilities.

Advocates argue that the $22-a-day food budget USDA currently sets for a family of four is woefully inadequate and relies on outdated, unrealistic assumptions. The market basket assumes a family eats more than five pounds of beans a week, for example. And outside studies have found that the food plan requires spending about two hours a day preparing meals, largely from scratch, at a time the average American family spends just a half hour on daily food preparation.

SNAP benefits are calculated on a sliding scale based on income and the number and age of people in a household. Recipients are expected to spend 30% of their net income on food, with food stamps making up the deficit from the USDA food budget. Benefits can only be used to purchase groceries.

More than a quarter of the households enrolled in SNAP exhaust their monthly benefits in the first week after issuance, and more than half do so by the second week, according to a 2011 USDA study.

The Obama administration considered changing the USDA food budget so seriously that the decision went all the way up to the president. But at a June 2015 Oval Office meeting with his top economic and domestic policy advisers, Obama ultimately decided not to tamper with the market basket, mindful that Republicans then controlled both houses of Congress, according to Furman.

“We made a pragmatic decision that it not only could be overridden by a Republican Congress, but they could put something worse in its place. So we decided not to poke the bear,” Furman said.

With Democrats now holding narrow majorities in the House and Senate, “the Republicans could put up a good fight, but at the end of the day I don’t think they could do anything to stop it,” said Mike Conaway, a former Republican House Agriculture Committee chairman who retired from Congress last year.

The U.S. has periodically reviewed the market basket, first established as the Economy Food Plan in 1961 and updated in 1975 as the Thrifty Food Plan, to adjust for changes in nutritional guidelines and food consumption patterns. The most recent review came in 2006. Yet the reviews were always constrained to keep costs constant.

This time, the review won’t be required to be cost-neutral, said Stacy Dean, a senior USDA official leading the review on behalf of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“A core goal of the secretary is to assure nutrition security, not just food security,” Dean said. “We want to make sure the benefits we are providing really and truly can support a nutritious and healthy diet.”

Dean won’t commit to a timeline for finishing the review, but said it would “ideally” be done by summer. If so, she said, the updated market basket could be used to set benefits beginning Oct. 1, when they’re annually adjusted for inflation.

The Biden administration isn’t officially prejudging the outcome of the review, but officials have made clear they believe current benefit levels aren’t sufficient.

“It’s fair to say that the SNAP benefit is in many cases not adequate enough to provide the help and assistance that is needed,” Vilsack told an anti-hunger conference in March, describing the review. “I suspect that we’re going to find that the foundation of that program doesn’t meet the activities of normal American families today, and that may result in some adjustment in terms of the benefit.”

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This Anti-Trump Republican is About to Go Down

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Members of the G.O.P. are scheduled to vote tomorrow to expel Conference Chair Liz Cheney from the No. 3 leadership post. The Wyoming Republican, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, is a vocal critic of Donald Trump even though they belong to the same party. This move to get her out of her position is a huge sign that Trump still has a powerful grip on the Republican Party. 

Cheney’s problems with her party sprouted from the January 6 Capitol riots, wherein a throng of Trump supporters mobbed the Congress. A few days after that chaotic event, Liz Cheney was among the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for incitement of insurrection. The impeachment was unsurprisingly supported by the Democrats but the Republican-dominated Senate acquitted then-president Donald Trump.

House Republicans tried to unseat Cheney from her post as party conference chair but the Republican’s main guy in the lower chamber, Kevin McCarthy, advised members to keep her in that position. Ms Cheney would eventually stay due to a unanimous vote and since then her lambasting of Donald Trump continued for months.

Last week however, Cheney published an anti-Trump article on Washington Post which seemed to annoy McCarthy himself. He thought that the party would be able to move forward after helping to retain Cheney, but because of her continued divisive actions, McCarthy lost his confidence in her, eventually prompting him to take the necessary steps to try to remove her from power. 

This development will thrust Liz Cheney into the Never Trump spotlight further and will make her the face of that leaderless movement. The divided faction has already lost Arizona Senator John McCain when he died in 2018. Meanwhile, centrist Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney of Utah, with all their waning popularity, don’t seem all-in in the fight against Donald Trump.

Even though the voting is yet to take place, it is most likely that Liz Cheney will be unseated from her post. In fact, the party has already been considering a replacement. Only 36 years young, rising star Elisa Stefanik used to be a staunch Trump critic but went on to become an ally and even defended the former president in his 2019 impeachment trial. She also heavily endorsed Donald Trump during the 2020 campaign, stating that Trump is the “only candidate who is capable of protecting the American Dream”. Upon replacement of Liz Cheney, Elise Stefanik is expected to bring in a much-needed new voice in the House of Representatives.

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The White House Condemns Hamas Attacks On Tel Aviv

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Palestinian militants have launched thousands of rocket attacks on Israel since 2001 and the victims are mostly innocent civilians. These assaults were labelled as terrorism by the United Nations, European Union and Israel. On the other hand, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch classify the violent acts as war crimes. 

Recently, Palestinian militant nationalist organization Hamas attacked Tel Aviv with rockets, causing renewed conflict within the already-chaotic region. The U.S. government has condemned the attacks and called for a halt to the unnecessary mayhem that has left nothing but destruction and has already claimed many lives from both sides.

In an interview with the press, White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated that President Biden is being briefed regularly on the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. The president’s team is communicating consistently with Israeli and Palestinian officials, along with other leaders in the Middle East, to try to de-escalate the ongoing attacks. 

“The president’s support for Israel’s security, for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, is fundamental and will never waiver. We condemn ongoing rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem. We also stand against extremism that has inflicted violence on both communities,” Psaki said.

During a briefing with reporters last Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price stated “The loss of life of innocent Palestinian civilians, innocent Israelis, is something we deeply regret. It is precisely why we are doing everything we can, we are doing everything we can in coordination with our international partners to put an end to a cycle of escalation and a cycle of violence.”

The fighting has been brewing for many days until it escalated into a full blown attack by Hamas, which led to retaliatory strikes from Israel. There would’ve been more destruction in Tel Aviv, but fortunately they have intercepted some of the rockets in the sky, before they reach their targets.

National Security adviser Jake Sullivan has kept in touch with some allies in the Egyptian government and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne informed the media that Sullivan sent a message that expressed support and encouraged peace. 

“He conveyed the President’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and for its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians. He also conveyed the United States’ encouragement of steps toward restoring a sustainable calm. They agreed to continue to stay in close touch,” Horne told reporters.

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Pentagon Advances Probe Into UFO Sightings

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he theory that other life forms exist across the universe is nothing new to American society, modern or otherwise. However, throughout decades of pursuit by scientists and fanatics, there has been very little evidence that they exist. Thankfully, the military has the means to observe alien phenomena. They have the technology to fly in the sky on any given day and provide the surveillance needed.

Recently the Pentagon is investigating the military on their policies regarding the way they handle UFO sightings. This conduct evaluation was deemed necessary especially when the Pentagon recently confirmed the veracity of three leaked video footages, including one that featured a flying triangular object that was captured by a Navy pilot back in 2019. 

The leaked videos prompted the Department of Defense to establish the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force (UAPTF) back in August 2020. The Pentagon stated “The Department of Defense established the UAPTF to improve its understanding of, and gain insight into, the nature and origins of UAPs. The mission of the task force is to detect, analyze and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to U.S. national security.”

“The Department of Defense and the military departments take any incursions by unauthorized aircraft into our training ranges or designated airspace very seriously and examine each report. This includes examinations of incursions that are initially reported as UAP when the observer cannot immediately identify what he or she is observing,” the Pentagon added.

The 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act that was passed back in December 2020, commands intelligence agencies and the Defense Department to craft a report on what they know about unidentified aerial phenomena. This piece of information will then be submitted to the lawmakers for further scrutiny.

Science fiction fans must be really excited for the past few years for these revelations. The fact that UAPs are already being taken seriously by the Pentagon and other agencies is a huge development. However, we must remember that this is not proof that we have visitors from other planets. In fact, we are nowhere close to uncovering alien activity. 

With the technology that we have today, there are possibilities that those flying objects were just manmade. Regular citizens like you and I can afford to buy drones and capture footage of our world. So it is not surprising to know that what we have seen could just be some type of unmanned aircraft. The bigger concern of the government and the military right now, is that these UAPs might be deployed by rival superpowers to spy on American offensive and defensive capabilities.

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