NYT Editorial: G.O.P. Wants Hungry Kids to Fund Tax Cuts

House Republicans are trying to make it even harder for low-income families to put food on the table while giving massive tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% and large corporations.


NYT Editorial: G.O.P. Wants Hungry Kids to Fund Tax Cuts


By The Editorial Board


June 21, 2018


After tearing apart immigrant families until shamed by international outrage, President Trump and his party have now turned to endangering vulnerable American children.


According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, if House Republicans get their way, more than two million people, many of them young children, will lose access to the food stamp program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The farm bill that passed by a two-vote margin on Thursday includes tougher work requirements and new eligibility restrictions that would make it much more difficult for families who need food assistance to get it.


The Agriculture Department administers SNAP. If the president gets his way, SNAP would be moved to the Department of Health and Human Services. And the name of that department, which already oversees other social programs like Medicare and Medicaid, would be changed to include the word “welfare,” which holds about the same amount of appeal for Republicans as “Communists” once did.


The goal of these maneuvers is twofold: to stigmatize such programs — racially stigmatize them for white voters — and to make them easier to cut or eliminate.


Let’s be clear. Welfare usually refers to a type of cash assistance that has all but disappeared. SNAP, by contrast, is a legally mandated benefit program. Just like Social Security and Medicare, it provides crucial assistance through a provision that’s been written into law.


Some 42 million poor and working-class Americans use SNAP benefits to buy groceries. A vast majority of them are elderly, disabled or children. Of the people who are both of working age and able-bodied, most do have jobs. They simply don’t earn enough to feed themselves consistently.


These working-age adults already face several requirements and restrictions on how much SNAP aid they can receive. For example, they must register with SNAP and accept any job offered to them, or any training program that they are assigned to. Unless they are older than 49 or raising children, they must also verify, on a monthly basis, that they are working or in job training at least part time (after a three-month grace period).


The new bill would expand these work requirements to include people up to the age of 59, and those with children older than 6. It would also tighten the rules so that anyone who fails to comply loses coverage for a full year the first time, and for three years each subsequent time.


Proponents say the point of such policies is to nudge people into full employment.


Helping the unemployed and underemployed obtain jobs that can support them is a laudable goal. But the fact that Republicans have chosen such a widely debunked approach to achieve this goal undermines the party’s credibility. History and research have shown that stringent work requirements are good at forcing people off benefit rosters but terrible at lifting them out of poverty.


To help figure out what does work, Congress funded 10 pilot projects in individual states four years back, when it last renewed the farm bill. Those programs are testing different approaches to job training and job creation.


They are an example of exactly the kind of evidence-based policy that House Speaker Paul Ryan says he wants. If he and his colleagues were truly interested in lifting people out of poverty, they would wait, just a couple years more, until the data from those pilots were in before creating additional barriers to food assistance for vulnerable families.


Saving money is also a worthy aim. But let’s be honest about what we’re saving it for, especially if we’re going to take food out of children’s mouths to do it.


The Republicans’ recent tax cut made the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans wealthier, did little or nothing for average workers and added $1.5 trillion to the national debt. The party that passed that law is now using the resulting debt to rationalize taking grocery money, health care and other essentials from the disabled, retirees, and families with children.


Fortunately, there is some hope on the horizon. The president’s proposal is likely to be a very long shot. And the Senate’s farm bill — which, unlike the House’s, has bipartisan support — takes a much more palatable approach to food assistance. It would expand the SNAP pilot programs and streamline existing work requirements so that fewer eligible people are inadvertently denied benefits. It would also increase funding for another farm bill provision known as the Emergency Food Assistance Program.


That bill is expected on the Senate floor next week. Let’s hope that common sense and basic human decency prevail when it arrives.