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What you need to know about the Trump administration’s latest attack on food security

Hundreds of thousands of people will lose their (SNAP) food stamp benefits under the planned policy change.

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    Drop here! Photo: Like_the_Grand_Canyon/Flickr

According to the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching, which can be translated as The Way and Its Power, 

The Tao of heaven is like the bending of a bow. 

The high is lowered, and the low is raised. 

If the string is too long, it is shortened; 

If there is not enough, it is made longer. 

 

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much 

and give to those who do not have enough. 

Man's way is different. 

He takes from those who do not have enough 

to give to those who already have too much. 

For a contemporary example of the latter, you can find a pretty good—or bad—example in the Trump administration’s serial assaults on food assistance, particularly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. 

Earlier this month, the administration announced a policy that make it harder for adults without dependents to get SNAP, imposing work reporting requirements and limits on the length of time they can receive food assistance. It would also make it harder for states to get a federal waiver to avoid these harsh policies.  

This measure could cut off benefits for an estimated 700,000 destitute Americans, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Those affected by the change are among the poorest in the U.S., with an average income at just 18 percent of the poverty line, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture,  

“Most of these individuals are ineligible for any other form of government financial assistance because they aren’t elderly, severely disabled, or raising minor children,” notes Robert Greenstein of CBPP. “For many of them, SNAP is the only assistance they can receive to help make ends meet.”  

Not only is the administration’s decision to take food off people’s tables morally reprehensible, it will do nothing to encourage employment among SNAP participants. In fact, the measure is a replay of a failed policy that was tried in West Virginia in 2017, when the state imposed similar requirements as a pilot in the nine counties that had the lowest unemployment rate and presumably the best economic opportunities. 

When the results were tabulated, it turned out that this measure resulted in cutting over 5,400 people from the program … and it had no impact on increasing employment. By taking away SNAP benefits from low-income people, it actually took money from grocery stores and the local economy—and placed greater burdens on already stressed charities that had to scramble to meet increased need. 

The Trump administration’s latest attack on food security comes in the wake of two other proposed changes that would change the way eligibility for SNAP is calculated, resulting in even more cuts to the program and threatening eligibility for other key food assistance programs, including those that provide free school breakfasts and lunches to children. 

All these measures are an attempted end run around Congress, which protected SNAP from devastating cuts in the 2018 bipartisan Farm Bill.  

The time limits for SNAP are set to take effect on April 1, 2020, unless Congress or the courts takes action to stop it, according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “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.” 

One thing that people around the country could do is talk to their representatives in Congress and urge them to speak out against these cruel changes. Whatever happens next, our goal in West Virginia can be summed up in the saying “food for all.” To state the obvious, the problem isn’t that too many people in the U.S. receive SNAP benefits—the problem is that so many need them. 

About the Author

Rick Wilson is the director of AFSC's West Virginia Economic Justice Project. 

To read more from Rick, check out his personal blog, The Goat Rope

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