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The Food Stamp Work Requirement Is a Scheme to Punish Hungry Americans

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Growing up in Boonville, California in the 1990s, a friend of mine would sometimes jokingly use the phrase “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” If people are feeling bad, what better incentive to change their mood than getting repeatedly whacked with a stick?

The recent proposal by Congress to add work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) reminded me of that phrase. In the 2018 Farm Bill currently under consideration in the House, Republicans have proposed new conditions for SNAP that would block many people from receiving food assistance if they are unemployed. While at first glance this may appear like a policy to encourage greater employment, it would actually make it harder for people to find a job, while taking away crucial support from more than one million hungry Americans.

While setting more unemployed Americans on a path to employment and economic self-sufficiency is a positive goal, the threat of withholding food is a highly ineffective way to encourage workforce participation. Some of the most common barriers to employment are insufficient education or skills, mental health issues, hiring biases and a lack of job opportunities. Fear of not having enough to eat does nothing to overcome those obstacles.

When people are hungry, they’re frequently unable to focus, which makes it harder for them to get a job, not easier. Instead of boosting employment, this proposal would act as a barrier rather than an incentive.

The actual impact of this policy change would be to punish hungry Americans. In many regions of the country, people are struggling to find full-time work, but can’t. While the overall unemployment rate sits at a low 3.8 percent, the rate of involuntary underemployment is more than twice that, and exceeds 10 percent in many states and counties. This proposal would leave those who are unable to find a job with neither income nor food assistance.

Instead of adding poorly-designed restrictions to SNAP, we should be pursuing evidence-based policy changes to increase the effectiveness of our social programs. As someone who works on universal basic income policy, I’ve spent years studying the effects of unconditional benefits, i.e. what happens when you offer people support without any requirements on their behavior. Every analysis has arrived at the same conclusion: When you give people benefits without strings attached, they use them for productive purposes. The vast majority of people want to do well in life, and they’ll make the most of any support they receive.

When we layer on restrictions and bureaucratic hoops that recipients must jump through, not only does this not improve people’s behavior, it actually blocks many people from receiving much-needed support. Even without the new work requirements, SNAP already has many barriers to access that make it difficult to enroll. In California, the latest estimates finds that only 70 percent of eligible residents receive SNAP benefits—due in large part to the challenging enrollment process.

SNAP has a profound positive impact on hungry families. Beyond just providing food security, recent research has found the program reduces healthcare costs and increases economic self-sufficiency for women who received benefits as children. We should be striving to boost participation by removing onerous participation requirements, with the goal of ensuring that every hungry American has access to the program.

Our social safety net is far from perfect—there are many needed changes that can help lift more people out of poverty and set them on a path for long-term success. But if we want to do better, we should aim to remove barriers to access, not punish struggling Americans by taking food assistance away from those who can’t find work.

This piece was originally published at In These Times on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at [email protected].David Moberg has worked with In These Times since its inception in 1976.  During that time, he has established himself as one of the country’s leading journalists covering the labor movement.

As a senior editor for In These Times, Moberg has written about new battlefronts for labor, examined the past and present strategy of the labor movement and profiled many labor fights before they were covered in the mainstream media. Additionally, his areas of expertise encompass globalization and trade, economic policy, national politics, urban affairs, the environment and energy.

Moberg has been awarded numerous accolades for his journalism efforts, including the Max Steinbock Award from the International Labor Communications Association, (2003); Forbes MediaGuide 500: A review of the Nation’s Most Important Journalists (1993, 1994), and a Project Censored Award in 1995. He has also received fellowships from organizations such as The Nation Institute (1999-2001) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (1995-1997).

Moberg has also written for The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, Salon, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, the Chicago ReaderChicago, The New Republic, Dissent, L.A. Weekly, World Policy Journal, Newsday, the Boston Globe, Utne Reader, Mother Jones, and others.

Moberg has also contributed to a series of books including: Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times (Seven Stories, 2002); The Next Agenda (Westview Press, 2001); Which Direction for Organized Labor? (Wayne State University Press, 1999); Not Your Father’s Union Movement (WW Norton & Company Inc., 1998); Can We Put an End to Sweatshops? (Beacon Press, 2001); Making Work Pay: America After Welfare (WW Norton & Company Inc., 2002); The New Chicago (to be released); Encyclopedia of Chicago History (2004), and others.

In addition to his work at In These Times, Moberg has taught sociology and anthropology at DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Loyola University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northeastern Illinois University.


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USDA Does Not Have The Cash To Keep Food Stamps Running If The Government Shuts Down

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AlanPyke_108x108Tens of millions of vulnerable Americans would lose their food stamps benefits if Republicans bent on defunding Planned Parenthood force the second government shutdown of the Obama era next week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warned on Tuesday.

Unlike the 2013 shutdown when cash reserves allowed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be disbursed as normal, “USDA will not have the funding necessary for SNAP benefits in October and will be forced to stop providing benefits within the first several days of October,” a spokeswoman told the Associated Press. The agency notified state SNAP administrators on Friday that they should not begin the process of doling out October’s food stamps dollars this week as they normally would.

Without a deal, funding for normal government operations will run out at the end of September. In response to the news that a shutdown would cut off food stamps to as many as 45 million people, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) issued a statement saying the way to avoid a shutdown is for Democrats to get on board with cutting off federal funding for women’s healthcare. “The best way to ensure SNAP recipients receive needed support is to vote for the [continuing resolution],” Roberts told the Huffington Post. “I’m prepared to do so, and if members are worried about SNAP funding, they should too.”

The funding measure Roberts referenced would zero out federal funds to Planned Parenthood, the national women’s health organization that’s been smeared by pro-life activists as improperly profiting off the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Many of Roberts’ House colleagues have pledged to shut down the government if the group doesn’t have its funding cut off. State lawmakers in some parts of the country have already moved to restrict the group’s ability to provide a wide range of health services to low-income women who depend on Planned Parenthood clinics. In a quarter of all the counties where the group has a presence, the clinics are the only source of affordable contraceptive services for women of little means.

The 2013 government shutdown caused disruptions in a variety of federal services including thejob training programs that unemployed people rely on to fulfill the eligibility requirements of SNAP. But the money for food itself was able to continue flowing because the USDA had sufficient cash in reserve to put the appropriate funds on peoples’ cards. That isn’t the case this time, lawmakers briefed by the agency say.

Cutting off SNAP would mean shooting the U.S. economy in the foot. The benefits more than pay for themselves, generating close to two dollars of economic activity for every dollar of benefits doled out by the USDA. Plugging up the flow of money from the federal government to low-income families to the grocery stores where they shop would have ripple effects on businesses and on tax revenue for public coffers.

The timing of the possible shutdown would exacerbate that natural chain of harmful knock-on effects. Most SNAP beneficiaries have already spent down their full monthly benefit by about midway through any given month. That cycle puts a crunch on grocery stores as well, distorting the hours they can sensibly schedule workers to be in the store and shifting how they stock their shelves. The USDA’s early warning about SNAP being cut off may have some political ramifications in the Congressional tussle over government funding, but it also serves as a more practical heads-up to the economic ecosystem surrounding the food stamps program.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

 


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The Paul Ryan Budget – Déjà vu All Over Again

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seiu-org-logoThe House of Representatives today passed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal year (FY) budget resolution. Introduced last week (on April Fool’s Day), the Ryan budget is as extreme as the proposals he offered last year and the year before.

As in previous budgets, Ryan seeks to cut the deficit on the backs of the elderly, low-income and vulnerable Americans, while the wealthy and corporations are once again exempt from paying their fair share.

Unsurprisingly, low-income and vulnerable Americans do not fare well in Rep. Ryan’s budget.

Among the $5.1 trillion in cuts he proposes are reducing funding for and block-granting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, at a time when there is record poverty. Cuts to SNAP would end benefits to some 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 alone.

The Ryan budget proposes to end Medicaid as we know it and instead provide fixed block grants to states. This would destroy the historic state-federal relationship underlying this safety net program and shift huge costs to the states.

The budget proposal also cuts Medicare. For people younger than 55, the budget would privatize Medicare by converting it to a system under which those who are enrolled in Medicare would receive a capped voucher to purchase private insurance in a specialized Medicare marketplace. This would mean less care and higher costs for millions of Americans.

As for the wealthy and corporations, they do quite well in this proposal, lowering the top income tax rate for the very rich from 39.6 percent to 25 percent and slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. These tax cuts would cost about $5 trillion over ten years. Ryan suggests that these tax breaks will be offset by closing loopholes, but the budget does not name a single loophole that he’d eliminate.

To top it off, the Ryan budget would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. In fact, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the Ryan budget resolution would, on net, result in 1.1 million jobs lost in FY 2015 and 3 million jobs lost in FY 2016. If the economy remains sluggish at that point, large job losses could continue into FY 2017 and beyond.

Budgets are not just a bunch of numbers on papers. They are blueprints that reflect our priorities and our values. Rep. Ryan’s budget does not reflect the priorities or values that most Americans hold dear. It’s important that we all know exactly where Rep. Ryan’s priorities and values lie. Sadly, his budget proposal tells us just that.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on April 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU Communications


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