Outrage of the Week: poorest of the poor to lose Food Stamps
Now for our other regular weekly feature, the Outrage of the Week
According to a new study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, roughly one million of the nation’s poorest people will lose their Food Stamps over the course of 2016. Food Stamps are now properly called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but most everyone still calls them Food Stamps.
The problem here arises out of the 1996 welfare "reform" law. Remember that law? The Bill Clinton-era law that was going to, in his words, "end welfare as we know it?" Remember how it was going to fix everything? Remember?
That law said that unemployed adults aged 18-50 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children can't get SNAP benefits for more than three months in any 36-month period. Three months in three years. The law created an exception for those in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week - but it did not require states to create such programs, so most didn't and so for most affected people that "exception" does not exist.
What's more, there is no exception for an inability to find work - so these individuals will lose their benefits after three months regardless of how hard they are looking for work.
Waivers could be granted for states to skip the three-month limit if the state's unemployment was high enough. During the Great Recession, most states got such waivers. But with declining unemployment, those waivers are now expiring in the 40 states that still have them and - surprise, surprise - Congress is in no mood to extend them.
The impact on the folks affected by the loss of the waiver will be severe. Agriculture Department data show that 82% of the people subject to the three-month limit have average monthly incomes no more than half of the poverty line. Even more shocking is the fact that, as a group, their average monthly income is about 19 percent of the poverty line. That's not 19% below the poverty line, it's 19% of the poverty line. Less than one-fifth of poverty level. And they typically qualify for no other income support.
Hitting those people with a loss of food assistance averaging approximately $150 to $200 per person per month will - not might, will - cause serious hardship. These people will go hungry. Period.
There are a lot of things Congress could do. It could restore the funding that was cut last year. It could extend the waivers. Hell, it could make the waivers permanent. Hey, I know that waiver business was supposed to be temporary, based on economic conditions, but the same was true of those famous Bush-era tax cuts and that didn't stop them from becoming permanent, did it?
But Congress isn't going to do that, in fact, no one is even talking about doing it, even among the supposed liberals. But the real reason it won't happen is that Congress is now in the grip of ideology-driven fruitcakes who won't do anything to help the poor - not because of small government, not because of cutting the budget, not because of reducing taxes, but because they just don't care. They do not care that people will go hungry, they do not care that people will starve. Not even out of a drive for personal gain or benefit. They just do not care.
That's something I will be coming back to. For now, I'm just going to say it is a gross moral and ethical outrage.
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