Perhaps you’ve seen the news by now. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is masterminding a new SNAP (food stamp) proposal that’s supposed to cut the program by around $40 billion over the next 10 years. This is nearly twice as much as the version in the Farm Bill that went down to defeat in mid-June.
The Cantor version has everything that was in that, including amendments added before the final vote.
One of them, widely thought to have sealed the Farm Bill’s fate, established a new, deceptively-characterized work requirement option for states that was actually an incentive for them to end benefits for as many participants as possible.
Now Cantor wants to insert another work requirement provision that he reportedly tried to get into the Farm Bill from the outset. This one would eliminate waivers from a work requirement that’s been part of SNAP since Congress ended welfare as we knew it.
As I’ve written before, able-bodied adults without dependents can ordinarily get SNAP benefits for only three months in any three-year period unless they’re working 20 hours a week or participating, for the same amount of time, in an education and training or a workfare program, i.e., working for no pay in exchange for their benefits.
But for (I hope) obvious reasons, states can get waivers from the ABAWD requirements for areas where the unemployment rate is extraordinarily high or the U.S. Department of Agriculture determines there are “insufficient jobs” available.
All but a few states and the District of Columbia still have such waivers for at least some of their jurisdictions, according to the latest (now outdated) notice posted by USDA.
Cantor and the colleagues he’s working with apparently want to blow away the waiver option — whether states have E&T and/or workfare slots for affected ABAWDs or not.
A memo the Congressional Research Service prepared for Cantor indicates that about 3.9 million SNAP recipients might be affected, though CRS couldn’t come up with a hard number.
This is a small fraction of all recipients — 9.7% in the (also now outdated) CRS estimates. But they’re among the poorest, according to a very angry response by Bob Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Their average income, he says, is just 22% of the federal poverty line — about $2,528 a year if they’re single, $3,412 if they’re part of a two-member household.
And because of our propensity to disadvantage the childless, they’re ineligible for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — a source of some, though hardly enough cash assistance. Also, Greenstein adds, for cash assistance from state and local programs.
One of the drafters, Congressman Marlin Stutzman, says, “Most people would agree that if you are an able bodied adult without any kids, you should find your way off food stamps.”
But that’s not what we’re looking at here. States have no obligation to provide ABAWDs with education, training or on-the-job work experience. Only a few do — and only five to all who’d otherwise lose their benefits.
And these folks may be trying as hard as they can to find their way off food stamps. The jobs just aren’t there.
At this point, there are still three job seekers for every job available. And the ABAWDs, by and large, could qualify for only those on the low-skill end, Greenstein says.
Now, in one sense, all this seems a not-to-worry. Congressman Frank Lucas, the obviously unhappy chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, remarks on the $16.5 billion or so gap between the SNAP cut in the Senate Farm Bill and the cuts the House rejected.
He hopes for “guidance on high” — apparently referring to the White House, though a House-Senate compromise on a new Farm Bill may take higher guidance than that.
What is a to-worry is that we’re heading toward an even more complex crisis than the imminent end of spending authority for a vast number of government programs, plus the need to keep the government from defaulting on its debts.
Though SNAP won’t expire, other parts of the current Farm Bill will. And there are good reasons to believe the Senate may not pass another one-year extension.
Good reasons to believe the House won’t either — unless Speaker John Boehner allows a vote on a bill that his caucus won’t support.
Beyond this, we’re seeing another manifestation of the right-wing Republicans’ effort to gut safety net programs under the guise of redressing debilitating — and deficit-exploding — dependency.
And doing this by fostering the notion that poor people don’t want to work — but would if they got hungry enough.
Our safety net programs are far from perfect. Yet the best we can hope for is to preserve the status quo until Republicans and Democrats again agree that we, through our government, must see to the well-being of the less fortunate among us.
At this point, they can’t even agree on what the Bible teaches.