Nel's New Day

April 15, 2018

GOP Wants People to Go Hungry

Filed under: Congressional legislation — trp2011 @ 10:42 PM
Tags: , , ,

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is finally taking the lead in legislation—the one that helps shred the safety net—and House Republicans are following. DDT’s executive order allowing work requirements for people on food stamps is being replicated as part of the 2018 Farm Bill that does it one better by mandating that most adults between 18 and 59 be required to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive food stamp assistance. While some House conservatives want to take food from struggling families, they want to give more welfare to struggling farmers, especially if DDT’s threats of tariffs hurts them.

The plan budgets $1 billion per year to fund the training program expansion; cutting the hoped-for 1 million people could save the nation $500 million. The only good thing about the proposed bill is that it doesn’t include DDT’s budget proposal of cutting food stamps and replacing them with a box of non-perishable goods.

The concept of helping people become self-sufficient through training and well-paid jobs is excellent. Consider, however, that the GOP refuses to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which pays below the food-stamp income level for millions of full-time jobs. Also, quality training programs such as subsidized employment can cost up to $10,000 a year per person, costing $15 billion a year to fund a national employment and training program. The think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated costs for training at $1 billion per month, not per year. Ten state pilot programs are intended to identify best practices, and USDA has not evaluated them yet. Other concerns for the mandatory employment, as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) voiced, are unreliable transportation, low housing security, and shifting child care and medical schedules.

The GOP goal is to throw people off food stamps and ignore them if they become homeless or starve to death. Anyone failing to meet the criteria would be blocked for a year for the first time and three years for violations after that. Currently, people ages 18 to 49 must work or enroll in a training program for 20 hours a week to get benefits for more than three months every three years. The number of hours would be increased to 25 hours by 2026. This requirement covers 3.5 million of the over 40 million people receiving this benefit, almost nine percent. The new guidelines in the bill extends the age to 59 and includes all parents with school age children.

The object is to increase people working, but 58 percent of households receiving SNAP with at least one disabled adult are employed. Eighty-two percent of SNAP recipients worked in the year before or after enrollment.

DDT’s Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility executive order ordered secretaries across the government to review the safety net from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs in a search for new regulations, especially work requirements, and ways for states to have more “flexibility” for these programs. Flexibility, however, can be used to reduce states’ budget problems without helping people.

The executive order is meant to mimic what DDT sees as the success of the TANF “flexible” block grants, but he system created over 20 years ago to give lump sums to states has failed. In the early years of block grants, the labor market was strong, but the number of families helped immediately started to sag with an almost two-thirds loss by 2015 while the number of families with children in poverty increased from 5.1 million in 2000 to 6.5 million. The number of families with children in deep poverty increased by 50 percent. In 14 states, ten or fewer families receive cash assistance for every 100 families in poverty. The bottom half of this chart is comprised almost entirely of red states.

As fewer needy families receive assistance, the benefit levels drop to 20 percent less than in 1996. At the same time, housing cost have increased, and states spend little money to help people find and maintain work. Instead the block grants go to programs such as pre-K education or child welfare, freeing state funds for expenditure not related to safety nets. States have also lost 34 percent of the block grants’ value since its inception because their formulas have not changed, and the same formula has not been revised for population growth or economic conditions in each state.

DDT also claims that Kansas and Maine have shown success in food stamp work requirements because of “individuals who left welfare and … saw their income increase.” An audit of these two programs, however, shows that total resources of people cut off to SNAP participants dropped three percent within a year—and that was in a year when the economy was getting better.

The farm bill deadline is September, and, as usual in the current Congress, Democrats are kept out of the planning process. Republicans could pass a punitive bill for people on food stamps in the House, but a successful Senate vote requires Democratic support. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Agriculture Committee chair, has said that he will not consider major SNAP changes.

Three reports from the Bipartisan Policy Center include restrictions on buying sugary drinks, increased incentive for buying healthy food, and coordination between SNAP and federal health programs serving low-income households. They do not suggest a change in eligibility rules.

Internal USDA emails from March suggest that DDT may support mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipient. Wisconsin considered doing this although federal rules prohibit states from adding requirements on SNAP-eligible families. A federal appeals court struck down Florida’s SNAP drug-testing law in 2014, ruling that it was a form of unreasonable search, and Georgia’ law also lost in court. Twelve states have requested permission for drug testing with none granted.

Republicans won’t care if their low-income constituents go hungry, but they may be influenced by the cuts for big corporations if they reduce foot stamps. Supermarkets and superstores get 81 percent of SNAP benefits although they are only 14 percent of companies accepting them. The loss for these companies could be $57.5 billion in the next decade. Wal-Mart alone gets 18 percent of food stamp profits, and Target comes in second with a $4.8 billion to $5.3 billion loss. Kmart closed over 150 of its stores last year, and Food stamp benefit cuts would take away $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion from their tills.

Big banks will also lose money if they distribute less government benefits, but they are paid for distributing cards, balance inquiries, declined for insufficient funds, withdrawals, penalties, fees, etc. The 2014 law changes gave even more money to the banks because it required additional software for controlling foods purchased and fraud. The money all goes to three companies.

The money spent on food stamps almost doubles the dollars in economic activity. Last year, $70 billion fed 40 million people, half of the population that is food-insecure. People complain about fraud, but the total is down to less than one percent of the expenditures–$700 million compared to the $125 billion of waste in the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. also loses $40 to $70 billion a year to offshore tax evasion, but the government spent its money on conducting 4,396 undercover investigation of food stamp fraud in 2012 with a 40-percent success. The true “welfare queens” in the United States are corporations that refuse to pay people a living wage while giving hundreds of billions to owners and shareholders.

Republicans want to cut food stamps for two reasons. They believe that anyone not in their “tribe”—all those wealthy people who are their donors—don’t deserve any help. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) terminology of “makers” and “takers”—which he sort of apologized for—set the tone of denigrating all people who need government assistance. He may understand that people don’t want to be dependent on others, but the myth that people who use the safety net are users is prevalent in the conservative world. The use of “entitlement programs” for Social Security and Medicare is commonly among conservatives despite their being insurance programs that people pay into for their old age.

The second reason for cutting food stamps is the desperation that far-right Republicans feel as they run for re-election. Their gift of tax-cut money to the wealthy and large corporations has created a looming deficit, and their solution is to take the money away from the bottom 90 percent in the nation. Trying to cut food stamps is only their first step; a majority GOP Congress will be disastrous for almost everyone in the United States.

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