Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) announced last month that the state would sharply curtail food-stamp availability to struggling families. His latest defense isn’t quite persuasive.
First, a little background. As Alan Pyke recently explained, federal rules require able-bodied, childless adults, after three months, to either work or attend a job-training program in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (also known as food stamps). But during economic downturns and times of high unemployment, Washington will give states waivers, allowing struggling workers to receive food aid for more than three months.
As far as the Department of Agriculture is concerned, the economy is not yet strong, so states can continue to extend SNAP benefits beyond the three-month cap. But Pence doesn’t want to – the Republican governor thinks the economy is plenty strong to reapply the pre-crisis limits. It means tens of thousands of Hoosiers will lose their benefits.
Pence appeared on Fox News yesterday and explained his thinking on the issue.
“I’m someone that believes there’s nothing more ennobling to a person than a job,” Pence insisted. “And to make sure that able-bodied adults without dependents at home know that here in the state of Indiana, we want to partner with them in their success.”“You know, it’s the old story,” he continued. “Give someone a fish, and they’ll eat for a day. Teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime.”
So, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is blocking health care benefits for low-income families in order to help them “live the American dream” and Gov. Pence is curtailing food aid in order “ennoble” people.
How very gracious of them.
In theory, the “give someone a fish” adage sounds quite nice, and in a booming economy with low unemployment and broad job opportunities, we can have a credible conversation about work requirements and the safety net.
But Pence, like Walker, runs the risk of sounding horribly out of touch – their argument is predicated on the assumption that the economy is in great shape, and everyone who wants a job can easily get one. I suspect most of the American mainstream would offer a different assessment of economic conditions.
Indeed, the Raw Story piece referenced above noted this ThinkProgress report.
The most recent statistics on the job market in the Midwest shows that there are nearly two million unemployed people hunting for just over a million jobs across the region, to say nothing of the tens of thousands who have given up their formal job searching and are no longer counted as unemployed.
Don’t worry, struggling Hoosiers who miss out on job opportunities. You may have trouble putting food on the table, but at least you’ll be “ennobled” in the process.