President Trump may see some political advantage in stereotyping poor people as lazy, to push his plan to starve the federal food stamp program, but the rip that would cause in a vital safety net that helps 44 million Americans, most of them women and children, is unconscionable and should be rejected by Congress.
Criticism by antipoverty groups and food retailers may choke Trump's idea to give recipients boxes of food instead of store vouchers in order to cut costs in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But the 2018 Farm Bill he supports also includes much harsher work and eligibility rules for SNAP.
Currently, participants between the ages of 18 to 49 who are not raising minor children cannot receive benefits for more than three months in a 36-month period unless they are working or in a work training program. But the new bill would expand the work requirement age to 60 years old and limit a state's ability to obtain waivers to the requirement.
"By punishing workers for being unemployed – or simply underemployed – these proposals would hurt tens of thousands in Pennsylvania while doing nothing to help them find work faster," said Tom Mahon, communications manager for the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
A memo from GPCH said 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania use SNAP benefits to buy groceries, which pumps more than $215 million into grocery stores each month while helping to create good jobs in that industry, farming, and food production.
By targeting SNAP, Trump may be channeling Ronald Reagan, who in his 1976 presidential campaign ranted about "welfare queens" bilking the government. Instead of uniting Americans, Trump once again takes a divisive course by suggesting food stamp recipients who could work are instead receiving taxpayer-funded handouts.
Trump is ignoring facts. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows there is a working adult in more than 60 percent of families with children that receive SNAP benefits, and almost 90 percent of those households include a working adult within a year of receiving food aid. According to CBPP, the average benefit for a family of four is $456 per month.
These are not lazy people. Most want to work, but they need help feeding their families, at least for a while. Also keep in mind that 68 percent of the SNAP recipients who don't work are either children, disabled, or elderly, and among the rest are many who are either caring for a child under age 6 or a disabled person.
It might be easier to understand Trump's assault on SNAP were there evidence of it being run poorly, but there isn't. Food stamp fraud declined sharply in the late 1980s, after states began using Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. The fraud rate in SNAP last year was estimated at only 1.5 percent
Trump is right to cut spending, but not in food aid. SNAP's budget of about $70 billion is less than 2 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget, and the CBPP report shows 93 percent of SNAP funding is spent on food, and not administrative costs. The president would do better to look for waste in the $700 billion defense budget he has signed.