New York Post, April 20, 2023
“Cutting SNAP will lead to homelessness, incarceration and death for 38 million Americans,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-Bronx/Yonkers) howled Monday.
Bowman is enraged by a House Republican proposal to encourage some food-stamp recipients to take a job.
Hysteria over food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is obligatory in the Biden era.
Food-stamp outlays have soared in recent years, costing $140 billion in 2022 — more than twice the program’s price in 2019.
Republicans are seeking to curb costs.
The 1996 Clinton welfare-reform legislation limited how long able-bodied adults without dependents can collect food stamps without working.
That provision had broad bipartisan support. But Democrats no longer even pretend to support self-reliance.
The food-stamp work requirement was suspended at the pandemic’s start. The mandate is scheduled to resume this summer, but the Biden administration and congressional Democrats could make any such requirement an illusion.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack justified waiving the SNAP work requirement in 2021: “Groups with typically higher unemployment, including rural Americans, Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and People of Color and those with less than a high-school education would have been disproportionally harmed by this cruel policy.”
Requiring people to work was damn near a human-rights violation — at least for the categories Vilsack cited.
Controversy over the work requirement took center stage at a congressional hearing Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) chaired Wednesday. Most of the senators and witnesses opposed reviving the work requirement.
But Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) dissented. “Our workforce participation rate still has not recovered from government shutting down our economy during COVID and President Biden continuing to pay people to watch Netflix long after the pandemic had ended,” he emailed me after the hearing.
Braun pointed out that 18 states — including New York and California — have waivers that exempt any food-stamp recipient from the work requirement.
That covers half the able-bodied adults without kids in the entire country — even though many live in areas with low unemployment and plenty of unfilled jobs.
In addition, states can arbitrarily cancel the work requirement for up to 12% of SNAP recipients who might otherwise have to toil.
States offer employment and training programs to spur food-stamp recipients to transition to jobs.
But the programs are mostly either a joke or a mirage: Only 3% of SNAP recipients who were subject to work requirements participated in 2016.
The biggest surprise at the Senate hearing came from James Whitford, the co-founder and executive director of Watered Gardens Ministries, Missouri’s largest privately funded poverty-fighting organization.
He stated that SNAP is plagued by fraud and recipients admit “how easy and common it is to liquidate these benefits at 50 cents on the dollar.”
One alcoholic would stand on a street median holding a sign:“Food Stamps half price.”
Whitford warned that “SNAP benefits are often more hurtful than helpful.” His experience with his ministries vivified how “work awakens worth,” and he derided the “national epidemic of dependency.”
He quoted a woman named Jocelyn he helped become self-reliant: “It was harder for me to give up food stamps than it was for me to give up heroin.”
But for Democrats, dependents are political assets.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) promised at the hearing: “I will be doing everything I can to expand and protect federal nutrition benefits.” Warnock won election to the Senate thanks to his campaign fliers that promised voters more COVID benefits: “Want a $2,000 Check? Vote Warnock.”
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) declared that SNAP “needs to become a nutrition program.”
When he was mayor of Newark, Booker endorsed ending SNAP payments for sugar-sweetened beverages. Food-stamp recipients are twice as likely to be obese as eligible non-recipients, and they get 12% of their daily calories from such beverages (twice as much as higher-income groups).
But Democrats now oppose any reform that would reduce handouts to any recipient for any reason. (Booker’s office did not respond to repeated emails.)
Instead, they favor creating or expanding programs to “incentivize” healthy eating. Such tinkering will do nothing to counteract giving recipients blank checks to buy any junk food they please.
It also doesn’t help that pervasive shoplifting and other crime is helping drive stores like Walmart out of inner cities, curtailing access to low-priced food.
The food-stamp fury will likely continue on Capitol Hill most of this year.
Perhaps it is only a question of time until Democrats retroactively blame proposed SNAP cuts for the Irish potato famine.
Count on Team Biden to fight the SNAP work requirement no matter how many dollars it needs to squeeze out of the pockets of working Americans.
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.