Paul Ryan Wants To Kill Just A Few More Poor People, For Old Times' Sake
Republicans have long been concerned that "big government" insists on depriving poor people of their God-given freedom o die from starvation. House Speaker Paul Ryan is set to retire before 50 but on his way to that big lobbying firm in the sky, Ryan's GOP has one more hurting to put on Broke-Ass Americans.
Back in June, the House passed the Farm Bill, which actually does not guarantee each American a farm but does contain lots of nasty measures aimed at screwing poor people to Ryan's climactic satisfaction. There's currently a stalemate in the Senate because Democrats have their flaws but they won't back this Scrooge Act. However, lame-duck Ryan won't budge on his bill's proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP or food stamps) because he's just that much of a heartless asshole.
Let's look at some of these changes as hungry people with big eyes stare sadly at us. First up is a "provision" that would cut off SNAP benefits for people who have committed certain violent crimes, even though they've completed their prison sentences. The current law, which expires in September, only cuts off those who violate their parole or the terms of their release. The change would affect 100,000 people leaving prison each year or, to use Donald Trump's "hurricane math," just one "bad hombre" named Floyd.
Re-entering society after incarceration is already difficult. Annual income just after release from prison is roughly $6,500 -- not euros, mind you, but practically useless American dollars. Shredding the safety net increases the odds that they will make bad choices out of desperation that lands them back in prison, where in a twist worthy of O. Henry, they will again receive three taxpayer-funded meals a day. We're apparently OK with keeping bellies full when the recipients of government largesse are helping private prisons turn a profit.
Oh, right, black people are imprisoned at five times the rate of whites, so this is yet another one of those policies that ding the melanin-having in the name of "law and order." I've been accused in comments of "black nationalism," so I'll do my best Michael Stipe impression and try to focus on how "everybody hurts" in the Ryan bill, which also features punitive, insulting changes to SNAP's work requirements.
Those subject to the sweeping new requirements would be required to attend, document, and verify at least 20 hours of work or training activities each week in order to maintain their food assistance, putting food assistance at risk for up to 8 million people. Most SNAP recipients who can work already do, meaning this bill tries to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Recipients would be forced to constantly complete paperwork proving they're meeting the work requirement, an especially onerous demand for people who have multiple jobs and family responsibilities.
Conservatives are convinced that food assistance recipients are freeloading deadbeats. They insist that unless you light the fire of malnutrition under poor folks, they'll lack the motivation to go out and get that well-paying job from the 1950s before Republicans broke the unions. If anything, they'll only be satisfied if the poor are documenting their not-so-gainful employment in journals like lovesick teenagers: "THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13: Met a job today. It was dreamy. I'm making $5.65 an hour, so I think the job kinda likes me. I mean, it's not paying anyone any more ... but it's also not paying anyone any less because it's against the law. I wish I could figure it out."
SNAP recipients who do meet work requirements often find themselves in the unfortunate position where they make too much to qualify for continued assistance but not enough to keep eating regularly without it. People have lost benefits because they had a savings account like some fancy Rockefeller. This is known as a "benefit cliff" and most states had addressed that with broad based categorical eligibility (BBCE) options. However, the GOP's farm bill will eliminate most BBCE in very narrow circumstances, which would affect about 400,000 households because apparently we never fully appreciated cliffs. Didn't you ever watch a Wile E. Coyote cartoon?
The GOP might relent on the SNAP changes -- not because their hearts suddenly tripled in size but because they've been able to negotiate a hostage release type situation where they leave SNAP alone in return for giving wealthy farmers more crop subsidies and turning a blind eye on the regulation of pesticides that might blind people.
This all seems needlessly cruel but the Republicans believe in "fiscal responsibility" and someone's got to pay for those tax cuts for rich people. As Betsy DeVos would say from whatever mansion or yacht she's at now, "Baby needs a new pair of everything."
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.