Under new rules that even Ebenezer Scrooge would find harsh, Trump’s Department of Agriculture is planning to cut over 700,000 Americans from SNAP benefits, also known as food stamps. This ruthless and misguided change is another move by the Trump administration in their continued effort to attack poor Americans simply for the misfortune of living in poverty.
Starting April 1 of next year, all ‘able-bodied’ adults without dependents will be removed from the program and pushed further into poverty. However, these labels are misleading because they also include people who face physical or mental health barriers to accessing employment and parents who still care for children but don’t have full custody. Labeling swaths of people as ‘abled-bodied’ is a black-and-white solution to a complicated issue that ends up hurting hundreds of thousands.
Nevertheless, the Department of Agriculture claims that these changes will encourage more Americans to enter the workforce during a time of low unemployment, even going so far as to state the program is only intended for “assistance through difficult times, not a way of life.” This excuse is not only false but also incredibly cruel.
The average ‘able-bodied’ SNAP recipient receives just $165 dollars a month, a relatively small amount of money. This is enough to make a helpful difference in someone’s life, but hardly enough to live a life of luxury, especially considering SNAP has strict guidelines on what it can be spent on.
There is no evidence to support that cutting these meager benefits promotes increased employment. In fact, there are numerous studies that show just the opposite. Many people that are enrolled in SNAP struggle to find and maintain work due to a lack of opportunity, not a lack of willingness. Employment opportunities have largely fled many small towns and communities and those that remain usually require higher education or technical training for a person to be considered.
Even if an applicant were qualified, existing prejudices against people of color decrease the likelihood that their application will be considered. Approximately 1 in 3 households accepting SNAP benefits are African American and they are less likely to receive callbacks after job interviews when compared to their white counterparts. These geographical, technical, and racial inequalities to accessing employment make up a slew of reasons why it’s difficult for many Americans to find work, even during a time of low unemployment.
Unsurprisingly, SNAP is the second most effective government program at changing an individual’s economic conditions. But those benefits don’t just help the recipients, they also help the entire community around them. In our consumer-based economy, spending is the engine of our economy. When someone receives their SNAP benefits, that money is then spent in the economically distressed communities they often reside in, providing a small economic stimulus to local businesses. So when you take away $165 dollars from an economically vulnerable person, you’re not only guaranteeing they remain in poverty, you’re also disrupting the bottom-up demand that our economy relies on.
Despite claims that our government can’t afford to feed the hungry, just last week the House passed Trump’s expenditure bill to increase military spending by $22 billion a year. These SNAP cuts will save $5 billion over 5 years. Clearly this is about priorities, not money.
SNAP is one of the most important anti-poverty programs in America, one that helps feed nearly 42 million people. Cutting it would be a massive mistake. No one wants to be dependent on the government to provide for themselves or their family, but in hard times everyone deserves to have a chance to get back on their feet.
Withholding food from some of the most vulnerable people in our country in an effort to help them find full-time work is wrong, both morally and economically. Nearly 40 million Americans struggle with food insecurity, if anything, now is the time to be increasing benefits. We are the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, there is no reason that any American should go hungry.