The Grinch has appeared early this holiday season, appearing in the form of a new Trump administration rule that will cut food stamp eligibility for 700,000 Americans, including 90,000 Pennsylvanians.
As we know, the Grinch is a cartoon. So is the Trump administration’s view of life in America. In this cartoon version, everyone has access to well-paying full-time jobs that can support a family. Those jobs are plentiful even for those who lack education, transportation, and skills, or have criminal records. In this cartoon country, the only people who don’t take advantage of this prosperity are just too lazy and prefer to live as dependent on the largess of the federal government.
The new rule – which faced bipartisan rejection when the latest Farm Bill was drafted – targets able-bodied adults under 50 without children. It will more strictly enforce a requirement that recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work 20 hours per week. That requirement has until now been subject to waivers that states can receive relaxing those requirements, especially when unemployment is high. In states without these waivers, people can receive food stamps for no more than three months during a 36-month period.
This change has been made even though more than 140,000 people submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – most of them overwhelmingly negative, according to the New York Times. It is expected to cut $5.5 billion from the program over the next five years. Two additional pending rules will cut even more, and leave millions without benefits.
Cutting spending from the food stamp program is a perennial governmental exercise. Past attempts have included drug testing and restrictions on what can be purchased with food stamps; a particularly odious attempt that surfaced from the Trump administration last year was the idea of “Harvest boxes” that would ship boxes of food to people in need.
The poorest of the poor will be most affected by this change -- and many of those are in Philadelphia. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average income of those likely to be most affected is just 18 percent of the poverty line. The average SNAP benefits are $165 per month. Despite broad public support for the program, and research that the program is efficient, helps lift people out of poverty, and returns spending back into local economies, the demonizing of those in need continues.
Even after welfare was eliminated in 1997, the myths of welfare dependency have continued. Those myths represent a failure to imagine lives of struggle, of what it means to have a hard time making ends meet, or to juggle complicated lives that may involve caring for parents or other dependents, while lacking transportation to get to jobs that pay little and have irregular hours. That is a reality that exists, despite a strong job market and low unemployment. We should respond to that reality with help, like job training and other supports.
But “helping people” apparently belongs in another cartoon world, where fellow citizens being denied basic nutrition amid plenty is a condition that no one would tolerate.