While the multiple scandals surrounding President Donald Trump and his lawyers are receiving endless coverage in the media along with the drama surrounding former FBI Director James Comey whose book was published this past week along with Congressional Republicans releasing his much talked about memos, the fate of families who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) hangs in the precarious provisions of the Farm Bill.
The current version of the Farm Bill seeks to impose stricter work and eligibility requirements. Both would harm SNAP recipients and present unnecessary challenges to receive program benefits. Further, there is no evidence to suggest these proposals would have the intended outcome. But then a lack of evidence of effectiveness has never been a hindrance to massively oppressive GOP policy. Trickle-down economics continues to thrive despite even its inventor saying it is a fraud.
As a country we need to end the endless discussions and proposals of cuts to one of the most effective anti-poverty programs we have. If anything, SNAP benefits need to be expanded for their effectiveness in helping individuals and families out of chronic poverty. Yet, even apart from the effectiveness of this investment in people, in the richest country on the planet no one should have to wonder where their next meal will come from.
For too long a culture of deservedness has prevailed over our country’s welfare programs. People who need various forms of public assistance must face endless hurdles for what amounts to relatively few heavily restricted dollars to stretch their monthly budget. In fact, most families run out of these funds by the 21st of the month leaving more than a week of meals to wonder from where they will come. This food insecurity is unacceptable.
Congressional Republicans are continually dreaming up ways to build more hurdles into the system, so they can cut benefits in the name of fiscal conservatism. This time it is new work requirements and stricter income eligibility. A small increase in income, like a raise of just over $1.00 per hour, could push a person “over an economic cliff” and reduce their monthly income because they would no longer be eligible for SNAP benefits since their income surpassed 130 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently thirty-one states use Broad Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) to raise the gross income limit above the 130 percent FPL cutoff threshold. This state level flexibility one may believe would be championed by states’ rights Republicans, but nope.
The massive tax scam bill passed last December proved once again that the GOP is not the party of fiscal conservatism. And it has not been so for at least the past 40 years. One could also look to the egregious expenses of Trump and his cabinet for further evidence of the Republican Party’s failure at fiscal frugality.
As predicted the massive tax cuts for corporations did not turn into increased wages for workers which is where systemic and structural poverty must be addressed. Only when people have sufficient purchasing power to meet their needs though earning livable wages and have access to things like affordable healthcare, daycare, and education opportunities, will people be freed from entrapment in structural poverty and hunger. Eliminating food deserts and assuring access to nutritional foods is also essential to eliminating food insecurity.
It has always astonished this writer that the funding for SNAP routinely comes under great scrutiny. It’s always some version of waste, fraud, and abuse (again despite evidence). Yet, while this same scrutiny often applies to other areas of federal spending that Republicans decry like the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education, defense spending rarely receives in-depth inspection for insidious instances. Corporate welfare is never questioned, but the poor are expected to be financial wizards and frugal stewards with their meager means. Just where and how are they to learn these savvy skills?
Nevertheless, it is not a lack of budgeting or splurging on Starbucks that is keeping people in poverty. It is policies that deny living wages and steal money away through high interest rates and fees. Poor credit often accompanies poverty and predatory leaders like Pay Day Loans further entrap people in a deeper and deeper ditch of debt. In short, it’s expensive to be poor. This is the paradox of poverty that is often not seen.
It is imperative that the Farm Bill and all policies that seek to meet human needs actually address the real lives of people and the systemic and structural oppression and injustice they face each day.
We need to deconstruct the culture of deservedness and in its place build a world where human dignity prevails, and a social contract exists to assure that everyone’s basic needs including nutritional food are met. No one should lack a dignified wage for the worth of their work and pay equity must become the norm.
Safety net programs like SNAP will always be part of our society. It would be good to strengthen them in an act of compassionate neighbor-love. As a society we have the money; it is only a matter of the political will to appropriate it for the vulnerable and not the multinational companies whose interest is not workers but shareholders.
When money is funneled to the top most of it is sent overseas in tax heavens, but when it goes to people in need, it is spent. This is not only an investment in peoples’ daily well-being including the ability of children to learn in school, it is an immediate economic stimulus and investment in local economies making the whole system stronger.
Morally bankrupt Congressional Republicans are not going to change now. Amid all the scandals sensationalized by the media and Trump’s never ending meltdowns and attacks on Twitter, we must not let SNAP funding slip by us. The Farm Bill is not just about economics, it reflects the moral values of our country. I trust that even in the era of Trump there are still some left, especially for our neighbors in need.