Right now, food stamps are often the easiest type of public assistance to get. And they should be…
Because messing around with a lot of red tape and fine-tooth-comb determinations should not be what it takes to decide whether a child is eating tonight or not.
Because they realize that, all but a few states have come up with a way of getting food stamp money to people relatively simply: families automatically qualify if they are already receiving any of a wide range of other types of federal assistance. (Food stamps are a federal program, but administered by the states).
Trump’s proposal would change all that. People claiming they should get food stamps would have to go through a separate application, verification, and approval process, where they’d have to prove that their family income is not more than 30% above the official federal poverty level, which is currently $25,750 a year for a family of 4.
This is usually misleadingly stated by the government—and repeated by many of the news reports we’ve seen on this—as “130% of the poverty level”. That’s not incorrect. It’s just stating in way that makes it look like the government is being inexplicably generous, when it’s not. That’s because 100% of the poverty level is the poverty level, so while 130% of the poverty level kinda looks like more than double, it is just 30% above it. When we do the math, it means a family of 4 earning about $32,000 a year. Try getting by on that, especially in the high-cost states Trump’s new rules would most directly impact.
According to a document produced by the Agriculture Department explaining the change, the new rules will save the federal government almost $9.4-billion between now and 2023. Though that same document acknowledges that:
“[H]ouseholds that remain eligible for SNAP and new SNAP applicants will face additional burden associated with the application process….The proposed rule may also negatively impact food security and reduce the savings rates among those individuals who do not meet the income and resource eligibility requirements for SNAP“.
(SNAP = food stamps. It stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.)
According to Bloomberg, more than 3-million people would probably lose their benefits. Which would represent disqualifying about 8.5% of the people in the program. So that’s not quite the gutting of food stamps several Liberal politicians and commentators we heard today are making it out to be. Then again, that shouldn’t matter. It’s part of a pattern by this Administration. And any attack on food assistance is an attack on the most vulnerable.
This is all happening after the Trump Administration’s attempts to get this into law last year as part of a massive Farm Bill failed, so now they’re doing it by changing the rules via a series of Executive Orders signed by Trump. But, as the President himself said as he spoke to teen Conservatives in DC, “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as President”. Here’s him saying that (click on the photo to watch):
But Article 2 of the Constitution says only “ The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America”. So only in the broadest interpretation ever could that mean anything close to the President can do whatever he wants. And there are other parts of the Constitution that explicitly limit the power of the President. (Just to be clear, Trump wasn’t specifically talking about food stamps.) Still, Attorney General Bill Barr got his job at least partly based on a memo he wrote advocating for almost unlimited Presidential power. (But that’s all a story for another day.)
In the past, while Conservatives have waged a sometimes brutal war on welfare, they haven’t been quite so rabid about doing in food stamps. That may partly be explained by the odd fact that the program is administered by the Agriculture Department, and it’s certainly good for farmers and food processors and retailers for families to have incentives to buy more food products. (Walmart and Amazon, among others, have recently started programs allowing food stamp recipients to buy their groceries online.) Also in general, people are much more accepting of assistance for low-income Americans when the scope of what they can purchase with that assistance is limited. Needing food is easy to understand, versus visions of throwing the hard earned hard cash of taxpayers at “welfare queens” to spend on God- knows-what.
Yet the Trump Administration has dug up its own version of “welfare queens” on this one too. They eagerly point to people who have gotten food stamps under the current system who didn’t really qualify, including one professional rabble-rouser in Minnesota, who is actually a millionaire but figured out a way to get food stamps because he apparently has nothing better to do than potentially deprive people of benefits who really need them.
But what’s the big deal? Someone who’s getting food stamps now and really does need them will just have to produce a bunch of financial information and go in and fill out a bunch of new forms. And anyone who doesn’t, is basically admitting they don’t need the assistance anyway, right?
The impact potentially goes a lot deeper than that.
For one thing, the current system provides an off-ramp from food stamps for families where incomes are rising because of new jobs or higher salaries. Food stamp benefits slowly come down as wages rise. Until the families don’t need them anymore (thanks to Trump’s economic miracle). Which is exactly what Trump and his folks say they want to see happening. (And take a lot of credit for making happen).
But the new Trump rule does exactly the opposite. It’s a stop sign. So that many families, because they’d lose their food stamp benefits immediately, would actually be deeper in the hole if a family member got a new job or gets a raise, because the value of the food stamps they’ll lose will likely be more. A raise could actually become a loss.
And Rebecca Vallas of the liberal lobbying group Center for American Progress points out something that hadn’t occurred to us even though we’ve written about the topic a lot: whether a family gets food stamps often determines if their children are eligible for free school lunch.
But there is some faint hope of reversing this new rule, and that’s by making a lot of noise. Because the Trump Administration is doing it the way it is, it’s only a proposed rule at this point: open to public comment for the next 60 days. There is a government portal for commenting on various rule proposals, which the Agriculture Department wants you to go to, but we checked it out and it’s clunky. So we think the best way is to send an email to: SNAPPDBRules@usda.gov. According to the Agriculture Department, you must Include “Docket ID Number [FNS-2018-0037] Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance” in the subject line of your message. Also know that anything you send becomes a matter of public record.