In his campaign to drum up public support for a post-recess budget deal with Congress, President Barack Obama has repeated a call he first made in his 2013 State of the Union speech: an increase in the federal minimum wage. This past January, he called for a $9 minimum wage, up from the $7.25 rate that has remained unchanged the past four years. This week, at an Amazon packaging facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said: “[B]ecause no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I will keep making the case that we need to raise a minimum wage that in real terms is lower than it was when Ronald Reagan took office. That means more money in consumers’ pockets, and more business for companies like Amazon.”
A $9 federal minimum wage is higher than any current state’s minimum wage except Washington’s.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to pass a farm bill—a bill that influences everything from your lovely weekend farmers market to the subsidies that have led every food in America to be made from corn—without what is normally its biggest component: nutrition programs, including food stamps. It introduces a new wrinkle into a two-year fight over the farm bill, a sleepy piece of legislation that must be passed every five years and is normally uncontroversial. Senate leadership, which passed a farm bill earlier in June, has said it won’t pass one without the food stamp portion. Senator Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate agricultural committee, released a statement with a reminder of that yesterday: “The bill passed by the House today is not a real Farm Bill and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups.”
Kansas City is a little bit plainsy, and a little bit Southern, straddling the Missouri-Kansas border. It is an old city, especially compared to others west of the Mississippi, fueled in its early years by farming money and trade from settlers heading west. Kansas City proper is on the Missouri side, and Kansas City, Kansas, or KCK, sits like a stepchild on the other side, absorbing most of the urban core’s poverty and crime. The cities themselves have some of the fastest-growing poverty rates in the country, but in the suburbs, the number of low-income families has more than doubled since the start of the Great Recession.
In the aftermath of this week’s tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, I’ve heard an odd tidbit of information: That a set of twins were sitting on their front porch watching the storm before they had to run inside for cover as the funnel cloud roared closer to them. I have no doubt this story was propelled into the national news because so many people responded with confused amazement. But I didn’t find it at all surprising that people were out on their porch. I’d watched my own dad ride out the sorts of massive storm systems that produce tornadoes from a patio chair in the yard. On Monday night the same storms that hit Oklahoma passed through Arkansas, where I’m currently reporting a different article and am staying with my mother in the town I grew up in. I spent the better part of them on my porch with her two big black labs, trying to quiet the dogs down. These storms come often and everyone tells you to take cover in the most structurally sound part of your house; what they don’t tell you is that’s the opposite of what you want to do, when the air becomes Ozone and electric, when lightning strikes stop being jagged streaks and instead brighten up the whole sky at once with a grey-red sort of luminescence, when you hear thunder at the exact same time and it resonates long after in a rolling peel and you know the storm is right on top of you, when the alternating rain hammers and then stops, and the wind howls and gets still in unpredictable bursts. The earth alive and afire. I didn’t feel scared so much as nostalgic. I’d missed these storms in the nearly 15 years I’ve been on the East Coast. Those twins got quite a show.
This week, the Senate and House committees in charge of agriculture passed farm bills—mammoth bills that will last for five years if passed and signed—and sent them to their chamber floors. The bills handle farm policy, but the vast majority of their spending goes to a program that has proven a rich target for a Washington drunk on spending cuts—the food stamp program. The House bill would lower benefits across the board, cutting a fourth of the program’s $80 billion budget. The Senate bill would trim $4.4 billion from food stamps. Many of the cuts in both bills come from getting rid of a program that allowed states to streamline the ways they provide assistance to the poor.