The Expensive Meanness of Food Stamp Politics in the Debt Deal

Politicians Politics

            New Orleans     It’s a sad statement about the values and foundations of American society that when people don’t get what they want, they still feel it’s safe to punish the poor, and people who claim to care about lower income families allow them to do it, because they are not only poor, but relatively powerless.  I’m talking about the debt ceiling deal, and the just plain meanness of the Republican conservatives and the complicity of the Democrats to let poor families pay the price with hunger and malnutrition.  If anything, there’s even less excuse than usual for this attack on the poor, because the tradeoffs on forced work will actually cost more, even though the requirement is rationalized on the altar of saving money.  Like I said, just plain ideological class-based, entitled privileged meanness.

This wasn’t peripheral to the deal.  It was central.  Reports indicate that “stiffening the work requirement was the key hurdle that negotiators had to clear to get a deal on whether the federal government would be allowed to borrow more money to pay its bills, according to negotiators on both sides.”  President Biden had crippled any opposition to this feature by having signaled that he had voted for work requirements as a US Senator from Delaware in a previous life.  Shame, shame!

The new work requirements for so-called “able-bodied, low-income adults without dependents” is that they would have to work a minimum of 80-hours per month in order to get food stamps.  Furthermore, the age requirement has been increased from 49 to 54 years of age.  The same requirements are also tacked on to the what’s left of welfare recipients through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.  In negotiating around politics, rather than principal, there were a number of carveouts or exceptions.  None of this will apply to veterans, homeless people or young people leaving foster care.  All of this, both the exemptions and the new age ceiling, will sunset in October 2030, so there’s good news if you don’t starve to death over the next seven years and of course there’s the loophole that if you get too hungry you can go live on the street and qualify as homeless and SNAP back.

It all becomes even more painfully absurd because the Congressional Budget Office estimates that all of this malarkey will actually cost more money, another $2.1 billion over the next decade.  I’ll bet that’s a conservative number once you think of the level of state bureaucracy that will be necessary to create make work and fake training programs to fulfill the 80-hour requirements and police their compliance.

The math is straightforward, although contradictory.  About 700,000 current food stamp recipients would be affected out of 41 million receiving SNAP benefits according to the deal makers, which is only 1.7% of current beneficiaries.  The USDA folks who weren’t at the table say 7% of recipients are in this category, but that’s 2,870,000 people, or four times what the deal makers are pretending.  78,000 would gain benefits according to the CBO, so that’s only a bit over 10% of the deal’s exchange, and nothing at all compared to what may be almost 3 million people taking this punch to their guts.

Does the math matter?  Not really, the poor aren’t real people.  They are just numbers when it comes to the halls of power, and, worse, they are numbers that no one in Washington cares about one way or another.  They are just collateral damage in the power plays of politics and ideology.  None of this is about the so-called “value of work.”  It’s about class, race, misogyny, and just plain old hate, the devil takes the hindmost.

Shame, shame, shame.