700,000 Americans To Lose SNAP Benefits Under New USDA Policy (Video)

Whenever Democrats propose policies to make college more affordable or to provide healthcare as a human right, there’s always someone bound to ask, “How do we pay for it?

The mainstream (so-called “liberal”) media is one of the worst offenders.

But when Donald Trump’s Republican party proposed permanently cutting $1.5 trillion in taxes for its wealthy donors, no one–least of all the corporate media–asked how we were going to pay for it.

They don’t want to publicly admit we pay for it the same way we have always paid for tax breaks to the rich: by cutting social safety nets and public programs that benefit lower-and middle-income Americans.

It’s the con Republicans have been perpetrating on the American people since the 1970s when Republican strategist Jude Wanniski created his “supply side economics” theory, what came to be known as the “Two Santa Clauses Theory.”

It became codified into Republican party policy during Ronald Reagan’s administration, kicking off the economic death spiral we have been perpetuating the past four decades.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Department (USDA) followed the playbook perfectly when it announced it had formalized work requirements for 36 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)–i.e., food stamps–recipients.

Now nearly 700,000 Americans risk losing the safety net they have relied on to feed themselves and their families.

This rule change will affect non-disabled childless 18 and 49 year olds, who must now work at least 20 hours per week for more than three months over a 36-month period.

So far, some states have been granted wavers for high-unemployment areas, but this rule limits those waivers to those areas with a six-percent or higher unemployment rate.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, blasted the new rule:

“This Administration is out of touch with families who are struggling to make ends meet by working seasonal jobs or part-time jobs with unreliable hours. Seasonal holiday workers, workers in Northern Michigan’s tourism industry, and workers with unreliable hours like waiters and waitresses are the kinds of workers hurt by this proposal.”

She added work requirements originally introduced as part of last year’s Farm Bill were rejected, stating:

“There’s a reason Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly rejected this callous proposal in the Farm Bill and instead focused on bipartisan job training opportunities that actually help families find good paying jobs.”

President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Robert Greenstein, argued:

“Denying them basic food and nutrition is not the route that a fair and compassionate administration of either party should take.”

Organizations that combat hunger argue SNAP’s intention is to provide nutrition, not employment.

Many on SNAP are poor, live predominantly in rural areas, and frequently battle mental health issues and disabilities.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Food Assistance Policy Vice President, Stacy Dean, said:

“The policy targets very poor people struggling to work—some of whom are homeless or living with health conditions. Taking away basic food assistance from these individuals will only increase hardship and hunger, while doing nothing to help them find steady full-time work.”

But this is only the first of three changes to the food stamp program.

Two additional “reforms” seeks to alter the way 40 states automatically enroll families in SNAP when they receive other federal aid and cap deductions intended for housing and utility costs considered when people apply for benefits.

An Urban Institute study reports in an average month 3.7 million fewer people would receive SNAP; average monthly benefits for 2.2 million households would drop by $127; more than three million others would lose $37 per month; and 982,000 students would lose free or reduced lunch.

Urban Institute senior fellow, Laura Wheaton, who conducted the study, told NBC News:

“What we found is that overall the three proposed changes would reduce the number of households participating in SNAP by about 11 percent if this was implemented in 2018. It’s about a 9.4 percent reduction in the number of people participating and about an 8 percent reduction in overall benefits.”

Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, Brandon Lipps, did not comment on when the department would finalize the other two proposed rules.

President of the Food Research and Action Center, James D Weill, called the plan “deeply flawed and ill-conceived,” adding:

“The final rule would cause serious harm to individuals, communities and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule. In addition, the rule would harm the economy, grocery retailers, agricultural producers, and communities by reducing the amount of SNAP dollars available to spur local economic activity.”

Despite Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s assertion “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand, but not allowing it to become an infinitely giving hand,”  University of Illinois professor of agriculture and consumer economics, Craig Gundersen, stated in an April interview with NPR there is no evidence to suggest food stamps discourage work.

Two years ago, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) stated the White House sought to impose fees on retailers participating in SNAP by assessing fees when stores sign up, and requiring renewal every five years.

The Trump administration is proposing $191 billion in cuts to the food stamp program over the next decade, and it expects states to compensate for lost funding.

According to the Food Marketing Institute, food stamps accounted for approximately 5.8 percent of an estimated $669 billion in annual grocery store sales.

For some retailers, though, it accounts for much more. Walmart, for example, is the largest supermarket in the country.

Retail analyst Craig Johnson of Customer Growth Partners estimates Walmart generates $16 billion in food stamp sales a year, about twenty-three percent of federal food stamp spending.

After the government restricted food stamp benefits in 2013, Walmart reported a 0.9 percent decline in its quarterly grocery sales.

Craig Johnson said:

“They may be calling it out as an excuse for under performance. But it will be a small marginal impact.”

Let’s not be fooled: this is nothing more than another bald-faced attack on the poor and “takers;” i.e., the most vulnerable among us who require the most help.

If only they were ultra rich or transnational corporations, they would be receiving permanent tax breaks instead of cuts to government assistance keeping them alive.

It’s all about priorities.

Image credit: en.wikipedia.org

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.