Donald Trump has exactly one major legislative accomplishment: he signed an unpopular and regressive package of tax cuts approved by congressional Republicans two years ago. Apparently eager to create a modern-day Dickensian story, the Trump administration is now taking the next step, making it more difficult for many Americans to access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
The USDA rule change affects people between the ages of 18 and 49 who are childless and not disabled. Under current rules, this group is required to work at least 20 hours a week for more than three months over a 36-month period to qualify for food stamps, but states have been able to create waivers for areas that face high unemployment.
The new rule would limit states from waiving those standards, instead restricting their use to those areas that have a 6 percent unemployment rate or higher.
An analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities fleshed this out further, noting that the “draconian rule” adversely affects “the poorest of the poor”: Americans whose average income “is just 18 percent of the poverty line.” Currently, their average monthly SNAP benefits total about $165 per month.
And now, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis added, the Republican administration is ending “basic food assistance for nearly 700,000 of the nation’s poorest and most destitute people.”
In case this weren’t Dickensian enough, let’s also note for context that the news is reaching the public just a few weeks before Christmas.
What’s more, as New York’s Sarah Jones explained, this isn’t the only element of the Trump administration’s plans to restrict low-income Americans’ access to food assistance:
Another proposal, which the USDA is likely to finalize, would take food stamps from another 3 million people. Right now, households with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level can receive food stamps. The New York Times explained, for reference, that this guideline extends food aid to families of four with a household income of about $50,000. Households with assets of at least $2,250 would also no longer be eligible for aid.
The USDA itself has admitted that its reforms would cost almost half a million children their free school lunches, since eligibility is often determined by a household’s receipt of food stamps. The Urban Institute has estimated that the administration’s three rule changes, if finalized, will deprive around 3.7 million people total of food aid.
The president occasionally likes to present himself as a champion of the downtrodden. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” Trump declared in his inaugural address.
In reality, he seems convinced that low-income families lack any kind of political capital – in addition to lacking actual capital – which leads Trump administration officials to target them with new punishments, even as the wealthy and big corporations enjoy their generous GOP tax breaks.