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Working In These Times

Friday, Mar 25, 2011, 10:59 am

GOP Bill Would Deny Food Stamps to Striking Workers and Their Families

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

A group of House Republicans is continuing the war against organized labor, introducing legislation that would disqualify striking workers and their families from receiving food stamps.

A family that was eligible for food stamps immediately before a strike would continue to receive benefits, but their benefits wouldn't go up to offset the lost wages of the striking family member. A family that wasn't eligible until a breadwinner went on strike would get nothing.

As Salon reported earlier today, despite what some have reported, this food stamp restriction for strikers isn't new; it's current law. It was first added under Ronald Reagan in 1981 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 1988.

But what may be new is the bill's stipulation that any state or federal worker who was fired for striking would be ineligible for food stamps. In general, the food stamp program isn't picky about why someone isn't earning enough to put food on the table. The program serves the working poor, the unemployed, the underemployed, dependent children, the elderly, and the disabled. The proposed legislation would discriminate against entire families when a breadwinner goes on strike. 

The lead sponsor of the bill, H.R.1135, is Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the chair of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), a conservative House caucus with approximately 170 members. An RSC primer on the bill claims that it is designed to reduce dependence on welfare. "Welfare’s chief function should be to help people reach the point where they no longer need it,” Jordan said in a statement.

Ironically, if poor workers can't afford to strike for higher wages, they're more likely to be stuck on food stamps.

The overarching goal of H.R.1135 is to tally up all "means-tested welfare programs" in order to cap expenditures at 2007 levels, adjusted for inflation, as soon as the unemployment rate falls to 6.5%.

The bill defines means-tested welfare spending to include a dizzying array of programs aimed primarily at lower and middle income Americans. When most people think of welfare, they think of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps (SNAP), and Special Supplemental Food Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC).

You know what else counts as "welfare" under H.R.1135? Here are just a few examples: the refundable portion of the Earned Income Tax Credit; the Child Tax Credit; Pell Grants; Americorps; community health centers; and the refundable portions of the premium and out-of-pocket subsidies to be paid out under the Affordable Care Act.

Predictably, the bill also stipulates that none of these benefits can be used to pay for abortions. It's not clear whether H.R.1135 would prohibit a taxpayer from spending her EITC refund on an abortion.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities declined to comment on any aspect of the bill on Thursday afternoon, saying that its experts were still analyzing the issue.

The reiteration of the striker exemption appears to be a response to a bill to eliminate the striker restriction introduced earlier this session by Rep. Joe Baca (D-Ca).

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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