The GOP Wants To Open the American Dream to the Poor, By Taking Away Their Food

By cutting food stamps and instituting work-for-food requirements, Republicans say they are creating a land of opportunity.

Joel Bleifuss June 11, 2018

King Cotton (Andrea Anderegg / EyeEm)

Agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary Son­ny Per­due fears the poor are addict­ed to free food. Long-term depen­den­cy has nev­er been part of the Amer­i­can dream,” he wrote in an April 16 Fox News op-ed. USDA’s goal is to help indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies move from SNAP [Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram, aka food stamps] back to the work­force as the best long-term solu­tion to poverty.”

“It is imperative to require that able-bodied adults work in order to receive government assistance,” said Rep Jodey Arrington (R-Texas)

That is also the goal of the 2018 Farm Bill that GOP mem­bers of the House Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee sent to the full House on April 12. The bill’s Work­force Solu­tions” pro­vi­sion would man­date that mil­lions of peo­ple on SNAP work for their ben­e­fits. In exchange for about $150 to $185 a month in SNAP dol­lars, recip­i­ents would be required to spend 20 hours a week work­ing a paid job, under­go­ing job train­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in a gov­ern­ment work pro­gram, such as pick­ing up trash along high­ways. Peo­ple who are dis­abled, preg­nant, under 18 or over 59, or care­tak­ers of chil­dren under 6 or inca­pac­i­tat­ed adults would be exempt­ed. All oth­ers who fail to get with the pro­gram would be banned from food aid.

The Con­gres­sion­al Bud­get Office cal­cu­lates that from 2019 to 2028, the new bureau­cra­cy to admin­is­ter this work-to eat ini­tia­tive will cost $7.7 bil­lion, a fig­ure off­set by a pro­ject­ed $9.2 bil­lion reduc­tion in SNAP benefits.

Accord­ing to the Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­i­cy Pri­or­i­ties, the bill’s work require­ments would like­ly do sub­stan­tial­ly more harm than good, fuel­ing increas­es in hunger and pover­ty” and leave sub­stan­tial num­bers of low-income peo­ple with var­i­ous bar­ri­ers to employ­ment — such as very lim­it­ed skills or men­tal health issues like depres­sion — with nei­ther earn­ings nor food assistance.”

Repub­li­can mem­bers of the Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee have deliv­ered pre­dictable tough-love ser­mons about how Work­force Solu­tions would ben­e­fit the 1 in 8 Amer­i­cans who depend on SNAP. Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Conaway (R‑Texas) said the bill offers those who strug­gle every week to put food on the table” an oppor­tu­ni­ty for a bet­ter way of life.” Austin Scott (R‑Ga.) said SNAP recip­i­ents will now be free to achieve the Amer­i­can Dream.” Rick Allen (R‑Ga.) couldn’t be hap­pi­er: The great­est joy of my life has been afford­ing oth­ers with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­vide for their fam­i­ly, com­mu­ni­ty and nation through gain­ful employ­ment.” And Jodey Arring­ton (R‑Texas) said the bill’s focused account­abil­i­ty” sets a need­ed prece­dent: It is imper­a­tive to require that able-bod­ied adults work in order to receive gov­ern­ment assis­tance, not just in SNAP but all gov­ern­ment pro­grams.” (Indeed, on April 10, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed Reduc­ing Pover­ty in Amer­i­ca,” an exec­u­tive order that gives peo­ple who get pub­lic aid, like Med­ic­aid recip­i­ents, two choic­es: Work or lose your benefits.)

In addi­tion to cut­ting SNAP by $9.2 bil­lion (there­by help­ing the poor rise out of pover­ty), Reps. Conaway, Scott, Allen and Arring­ton are gung-ho about their farm bill for anoth­er rea­son. It address­es what Arring­ton calls an urgent nation­al secu­ri­ty imper­a­tive” — America’s fiber inde­pen­dence” — by fill­ing the gap­ing hole in the safe­ty net for cot­ton” with $438 mil­lion in sub­si­dies to own­ers of cot­ton plan­ta­tions. Not coin­ci­dent­ly, these con­gress­men rep­re­sent four of the top cot­ton-pro­duc­ing con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts in the coun­try. In the 2015 – 2016 and 2017 – 2018 elec­tion cycles, the four have so far filled their cam­paign chests with a total of $95,750 from the Nation­al Cot­ton Coun­cil and the Plains Cot­ton Growers.

Giv­en that the Work­force Solu­tions pro­gram encour­ages pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, it’s con­ceiv­able that, way down south in the land of cot­ton, SNAP ben­e­fi­cia­ries may soon find them­selves toil­ing in the fields of a lav­ish­ly sub­si­dized indus­try with the grimmest his­tor­i­cal associations.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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