Let Them Eat Cake


The Trump administration is cutting food stamps—now formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They couldn’t get Congress to do it, so they are going the executive route, with three new regulations that will take food stamps away from more than three million people, and cut the benefits of many who remain eligible.

The first new rule, which is scheduled to go into effect on April Fool’s Day in 2020, strips states of the ability to waive federal work requirements. Instead, able-bodied adults without children will not be allowed to receive food stamps for more than three months unless they have jobs. Plenty of jobs out there, the administration says. Maybe—but that doesn’t mean everyone can get or hold a job.

“’The overall unemployment rate is really a measure of the whole labor market and not people without a high school diploma who are incredibly poor and may lack transportation,’ said Stacy Dean, the vice president for food assistance policy at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. ‘We’re talking about a different group who just face a very different labor market.’ …

“Representative Marcia L. Fudge, Democrat of Ohio and the chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, said in a statement that instead of ‘considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.’”

The rule changes would deny food stamps to anyone who has more than $2,250 in assets. Own a 10-year-old car that you are nursing along to get to work or take kids to doctor appointments? Sorry—no food stamps for you.

“Adjusting eligibility formulas” includes setting a federal “Standard Utility Allowance” (SUA), one of the factors used to determine income and expenses. That will hit people in cold states especially hard, because of higher winter heating costs.

The Urban Institute’s report on the food stamp cuts says the formula adjustment also will mean 982,000 students lose automatic eligibility for free school breakfasts and lunches. They will have to reapply, furnishing documentation of family income. The Urban Institute summarizes:

“According to the USDA estimates, 45 percent of the children losing automatic eligibility for the NSLP and SBP would be eligible for free meals based on their income, 51 percent would be eligible for reduced-price meals, and 4 percent would be required to pay the full rate for school meals.”

The Urban Institute’s 26 page report, packed with statistics and careful analysis may not be your cup of tea. In that case, Rolling Stone offers a simpler summary:

“But if you have your own work to do and life to live and don’t have time for a policy deep dive, here are the basics of the situation: Some, probably very small fraction of the people who would lose food stamps probably don’t need them. Instead, they are getting small payments that help them get enough to eat in the richest country on earth while also paying rent and maybe even (horrors!) buying some stuff that wasn’t absolutely necessary. But some of the people — likely a far greater number of people — who’d lose food stamp payments really do need those benefits to get themselves and their families enough to eat. Without those benefits, they’ll either go hungry or make other, painful sacrifices that rich people have never thought about in their lives….

“The basics of the situation are clear: When it came to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Trump and Republicans felt the nation’s finances were firm enough to give up more than $1,500,000,000,000. When it’s time to spend a fraction of that to help poor people eat, that’s when the well has supposedly run dry.”

The well has not run dry. The United States is still a rich nation with plenty of food and shelter and resources to go around. What we face is not a lack of resources, but a continuing shift in distribution:

“Income inequality is worsening across the U.S. even as the economy extends the longest expansion in the country’s history. New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the gulf between the highest earners and everyone else is the widest it’s been in at least 50 years.”

Because of the Trump tax cuts, in 2018, billionaires paid a lower tax rate than the bottom 50 percent of all taxpayers, for the first time in history.

That’s policy, not coincidence. And it’s policy we can and must change.

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