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

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​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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