Donald Trump Giving 700,000 Americans The Gift Of No Food This Christmas
This week, the Trump administration announced that, come April, it will be implementing new work requirements for people receiving SNAP benefits, which will result in over 700,000 Americans losing said benefits and perhaps starving to death. What a lovely way to celebrate the holiday season!
Under the current rules, SNAP recipients who are not disabled and who do not have children are required to work for 20 hours a week for at least three months over 36 months in order to qualify. However, states are allowed to grant areas with high unemployment a waiver. These new rules would eliminate that ability, limiting the waivers to areas with unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher.
Such a rule is an especially big problem given that the gig economy tends to artificially inflate employment rates — there are a lot of people out there taking gig jobs like ride sharing or food delivery that allow them to be technically "employed" (whether they are working or not) while not actually being on a payroll. If you don't have a car, as is the case with many poor people, you can't even get one of those "gigs," anyway.
Naturally, it's being presented as the Trump administration actually doing all these poor people a big favor.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Brandon Lipps, the deputy undersecretary for the USDA's Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, spent about 18 minutes on a call with reporters outlining the changes to the rule that will take effect April 1.
"We're taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program," Perdue said. "Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That's the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life."
This is not about saving money — because really, this is a drop in the bucket, money-wise. It is certainly not about helping people discover "the dignity of work," as if they are idiots who are only on food stamps because they don't know they would be better off having a job. It is about a particular worldview that helps the Right retain power despite being very, very wrong about everything.
People, in general, have a tendency to want believe the most appealing version of any situation. Poverty is horrifying, so people like to ignore it as much as possible. I once saw a man on Michigan Avenue, out in front of the freaking Ralph Lauren Store, with a four-inch icicle hanging off of his nose. I called 311, obviously, but imagine how many people had to walk by that guy, in the middle of the holiday season, for a four-inch icicle to be there, hanging off his nose. How many people had to force themselves to find him invisible? How many people rationalized seeing a man on his way to freezing to death with some kind of assumption about his character?
When people do think about poverty, they like to think that it is something people bring upon themselves by being lazy or morally failing in some other way. They like to say things like "Whenever a homeless person asks me for money, I always go in and buy them a sandwich, because if you give them money they'll just spend it on booze" (as if you wouldn't want a drink if you were homeless), or talk sneeringly about homeless people who have rejected their sandwiches (maybe they don't like that sandwich! Maybe they're a vegetarian! Maybe some other person just bought them a sandwich! You don't know!).
It's practically superstition, in a way — people like to think that as long as they are good and not lazy, it will never happen to them. That is a very comforting thought. It is a very appealing thought.
Another appealing thought is the idea that if we simply stop helping poor people, they will learn to fly on their own, discover the joys of personal responsibility, and become heartwarming bootstraps tales to inspire us all. That is, truly, what this whole thing is about. It is about making people feel good, about allowing them to believe in that fairy tale. It doesn't matter that it's not true because most of the people who believe that bullshit are never actually going to meet anyone who uses SNAP or any other government program. The important thing is that they get to believe it is true.
The fact is, if you are poor enough to be on food stamps, it is likely that you are practically too poor to go job hunting. Job hunting, as I learned when I was on unemployment (and thus, technically, making "too much" to qualify for food stamps), is not cheap. Also, most of the jobs you can get quickly are jobs with unpredictable hours that do not pay a living wage. This means that not only could taking one put you in a worse position financially than you are currently in, it would also prevent you from being able to interview for a better job that actually would pay you a living wage. These are the kinds of things you need to calculate when you are poor. When you don't have money, every single thing you do is a calculation, every step you take, one way or another, is a gamble.
Not to mention the fact that the longer you are unemployed the harder it is to find a job, any job. Or that it's pretty hard to go job hunting or fill out a resumé when you are starving.
The issue isn't that all these people are just sitting around living high off the food stamp hog (average benefits for an individual, per month, are $127), it is that we do actually just do not have enough jobs in this country for everyone to work and earn a living wage. That is the problem, and it's a much scarier and far less appealing problem than poor people just not understanding the joys of "personal responsibility."
It is so, so incredibly easy to become poor in this country, for reasons having absolutely nothing to do with how good you are at doing "personal responsibility." Your boss can legally fire you for no reason. You can get sick and end up with impossibly expensive medical bills. That's what they don't want people to realize, because the second they do realize that, the harder it is to keep them in line, the harder it's going to be for politicians to keep doing things that benefit the rich and screw the poor. As long as people look at billionaires and go "that could be me!" and never look at poor people and go "that could be me!" they can get away with anything.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse