‘Scrooge would be proud’: Trump pulls food stamps from 700,000 people
With a plan to cut millions off food stamps, Trump is once more out to one-up Ebenezer Scrooge this holiday season. | Trump photo: Evan Vucci / AP; Photo illustration: PW

First it was banning Muslims from entering the country. Then it was ripping screaming toddlers from their mothers’ arms at the U.S.-Mexico border. Then it was throwing poor people out of public housing for flimsy reasons. And starting in April, it may be letting people starve.

Welcome to TrumpWorld, where people whom right-wing nativist GOP President Donald Trump hates—who are poor, jobless, people of color, or a combo of those—are singled out for retribution or worse.

The latest outrage, which drew screams from public interest groups and lawmakers who track hunger in the U.S., is a Trump Agriculture Department rule to throw 700,000-1.1 million poor single adults without kids at home—even fathers trying to support children elsewhere—off of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.

The final rule to toss them was locked in on Dec. 4, Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced. The rule takes effect in April, unless Congress or the courts can block it.

An analyst for the Urban Institute told National Public Radio that eviction of the first 700,000 could be followed by up to three million more as a result of two more Trump regime pending—but unspecified—food stamp curbs. To put it in context, food stamps now help some 36 million people get enough to eat.

Remembering that we’re in the holiday season, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., who chairs the House subcommittee that helps decide actual food stamp funding, said “Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud” of the Trump-Perdue plan to throw people off. Some lawmakers will try to reverse the scheme.

Food stamps are already tough to get, thanks to past “welfare reform.” Recipients are limited to three months of food stamps within a three-year period. And they have to look for jobs, too. But if they live in a county with high unemployment, the state can ask USDA to waive that three-month limit.

Trump’s USDA is ordering those single, able-bodied adults aged 18-49 without dependents at home to work—not just look for it—at least 20 hours a week, or lose their food stamps. If they live in a county with a jobless rate of 6% or more, the state can ask for the waiver. But waivers would be tougher to get. The new rule, for example, would not take into account whether the county even has any jobs available.

Forcing people off food stamps would give them an incentive to seek and get work, Perdue claimed. Never mind that the able-bodied people may have other reasons they can’t work, such as mental illness.

“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand, but not allowing it to become an infinitely giving hand,” Perdue’s press release said. “Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work.” He also alleged three-fourths of those 3.7 million single adults don’t work, without offering evidence for his statement. Critics called that a lie.

They said Trump and Perdue deliberately target the poorest and most-vulnerable people—the mentally ill, low-income people, caregivers, rural dwellers, people of color, or those with erratic work schedules. House Democrats, who run that chamber, vowed to do what they can to overturn Trump’s rule, though they did not specify how they would go about it.

They defeated it before: Food stamps are part of the mammoth farm bill, which comes up for renewal every few years. The GOP-run House Agriculture Committee put the tough rule in its farm bill last year, but a bipartisan House coalition voted the food stamp ban down.

So now Trump and Perdue plan to do through federal rules what the GOP couldn’t do in an up-or-down rollcall vote in 2018: Delete people from food stamps, to “save” $5 billion over five years.

The Urban Institute analyst noted those “savings” could go up in smoke: Hungrier people are weaker people, making them more likely to use Medicaid, emergency rooms when they get ill, or both. That, she said, would cost the government a lot more than $5 billion, though she had no numbers.

Trump “would weaken SNAP—the nation’s first defense against hunger—and take food off the tables of nearly 700,000 people, many of whom struggle to find sufficient hours of work in areas with few jobs,” said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

“The administration has now politicized the process, arbitrarily narrowing states’ ability to waive the time limit in many areas with insufficient jobs,” he said.

“The Trump administration is cutting off a vital lifeline by rigging SNAP against the very people who the program was created to help,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., an influential lawmaker who formerly chaired the House appropriations subcommittee that helped decide food stamp funding.

“People who are food insecure deserve access to food, not further stigmatization. The USDA’s own data continues to show the vast majority of SNAP recipients who can work do,” putting the lie to the Trump-Perdue claim that they don’t, DeLauro said. Perdue “punishes people for being poor. That is unconscionable.”

Bishop called the Trump-Perdue food stamp rule “an abomination” that harms people who work to feed themselves. “To be this cruel during the holiday season adds insult to injury,” he said. Trump “is going to kick the most vulnerable when they are down.” Bishop predicted more than 500,000 single adults would lose food stamps within a month. Other critics said that number could double.

“Working veterans, people with disabilities, and seniors will suffer under this new rule the most. Instead of helping these Americans while they help themselves, the administration decided to disparage them as lazy and undeserving. For an administration that asserts itself as Christianly, I cannot imagine a more hypocritical action that will harm the very people the Lord calls on us to protect.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., calculated Trump and Perdue would toss 1.1 million people off food stamps. They promised Democrats will seek to overturn the rule.

“Taking food away from people will only lead to more hunger and more desperation. This rule will not create jobs or help anyone find work,” they said. “It will disproportionately affect communities of color, rural areas, and other places where good jobs are scarce…No one should be going to bed hungry in the richest nation on earth,” they concluded.

Happy Holidays from Donald Trump.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.