Trump's Christmas Gift: A Nice Kick In The Teeth For The Poor
Just in time for Christmas, the Trump administration rolled out a new plan to cut food assistance to poor people, because damn it, they need to stop being poor. You see, even though most childless adults must already work 20 hours a week to qualify for food stamps, tougher work requirements are the hot new rightwing thing lately, so Trump's USDA wants to clamp down on waivers for people who can't find work due to local economic conditions. If there's high unemployment, then tighter work requirements for food stamps will make jobs appear, won't they? Donald Trump is smart.
The move comes after Congress's latest farm bill failed to get tough enough on poors using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka SNAP, aka food stamps). The House voted to add harsher work requirements, both for childless adults and some parents with kids, but the Senate wouldn't pass that nonsense. So the final bill left things as they were. Wingnuts were unhappy, so Team Trump went to work pushing tougher requirements through executive rule-making, even as Trump signed the farm bill yesterday.
Currently, adults without dependents must work (or attend job training) if they get SNAP more than three months in a three-year period. But if states have an unemployment rate 20 percent higher than the national rate, they can get permission to issue waivers so jobless slackers get up to two years of assistance. The logic there is that it's kind of dumb to demand people work if there are no jobs. But not anymore, as the Washington Post explains:
The USDA is now proposing that states could waive the requirement only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent. The current national unemployment rate stands at 3.7 percent.
About 2.8 million able-bodied recipients without children or an ailing person in their care were not working in 2016, according to the USDA's latest numbers. Roughly 755,000 live in areas that stand to lose the waivers.
Oh, yes, and to prove the administration has a heart, the new regs won't apply to pregnant women or the elderly, so that's pretty darn generous. Full-time caregivers and people with disabilities are already exempt from work requirements, at least until Republicans decide to start going around poking them with a stick to see if they jump up and were faking all along.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue explained why it's necessary to rewrite the whole system's rules to strip food stamps from 755,000 potential layabouts in high-unemployment areas:
"This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are as plentiful as they currently are," [...] Perdue said on a press call, adding the measure could save taxpayers $15 billion over 10 years.
"This restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population," he said.
See? They'll have dignity forced upon them, and if they lose their food assistance, maybe they'll just have to stop living in such luxury. Plus, look at all the savings to taxpayers: as much as $1.5 billion a year, maybe -- out of an annual SNAP budget of about $68 billion, so wow, big savings. Should offset the ginormous tax cut the rich got last year. As far as tightened work requirements "helping" a "sizeable segment" of the population, it's worth noting that as it stands, the 2.8 million childless adults who now get food stamps are already just a tiny sliver of the 39 million Americans currently using food stamps.
That's down from a high of 47 million at the peak of the Great Recession, but obviously we urgently need to cut another three quarters of a million people if we ever hope to avoid economic collapse. Makes sense to tighten benefits now that everyone can get a job. And there'll never be another recession, because the stock market keeps climbing and climbing, doesn't it?
No, not a word about the costs of putting the change in place, because why mention it? Just don't think about the fact that when Kentucky imposed work requirements for Medicaid, its administrative costs jumped 40 percent. On the plus side, higher costs mean less money available for benefits!
That's pretty much what worries the director of Washington state's Department of Social Health Services, Babs Roberts. She told WaPo the tougher requirements would likely overwhelm state job-training programs:
"Even with as robust a program as we have — including a partnership with every community college in the state," she said, it would be "really hard" for Washington to expand its job training efforts without significantly more funding.
Well, not if we can kick all those people off benefits altogether -- and then they can start getting rich, too!
Not surprisingly, Liberals aren't happy with all this, because the cynics see right through that "dignity of work" bullshit:
Perdue's move to enact a version of failed legislation through new federal rules isn't exactly a hit with congressional Dems, either.
"Congress writes laws, and the administration is required to write rules based on the law," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. "Administrative changes should not be driven by ideology. I do not support unilateral and unjustified changes that would take food away from families."
Then a bunch of rightwing trolls pointed out that adults without dependents aren't families, and also Fox News showed a guy buying crab legs with an EBT card, and then they started ranting about illegals (who don't qualify for SNAP) taking all our jobs and living on welfare, and we wish you a Merry Christmas whether you want it or not, this is AMERICA!
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