Trump’s holiday ‘gift’ to the needy: No more Medicaid or food stamps
Trump is giving Ebenezer Scrooge a run for his money this holiday season. | Trump photo: Evan Vucci / AP; Photo illustration: PW

WASHINGTON—Donald Trump, meet Ebenezer Scrooge—before Scrooge saw the light in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You’re him.

That’s because on Dec. 19, “at the direction of President Donald J. Trump”—and that’s a direct quote—Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue proposed new and tougher work rules for the millions of people who must use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, to feed themselves.

Supporters of aiding the poor were outraged. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a longtime champion of women and children and a top member of next year’s Democratic majority on the House Appropriations Committee—which actually helps dole out food stamp funds—called the Trump-Perdue food stamp plan “immoral at its core” and introduced legislation to overturn it.

Perdue, reflecting both his GOP boss’s views and common prejudices about food stamp recipients, declared the rules would return food stamps to being “a second chance, not a way of life” for users. He and Trump are “applying them to able-bodied food stamp recipients aged 18-49, with no dependents.”

Facts refute the prejudices, which include shibboleths that most food stamp recipients see “welfare” as a way of life, and that most are African American.

USDA data show 40 million people received food stamps in fiscal 2016, the last year for which full data are available. Two-thirds were families with kids. Trump’s food stamp rule would hit the other third.

Other government surveys say 40 percent of the single no-kids food stamp recipients are white, one-quarter are African-American, and 10 percent are Hispanic-named. The rest declined to say. And 80 percent of them used food stamps just for short periods of time to tide themselves over between jobs.

That didn’t stop Trump and Perdue. “As we make” food stamp “benefits available to those who truly need them, we must also encourage participants to take proactive steps toward self-sufficiency. Moving people to work is common-sense policy,” Perdue said. Never mind that federal data show more than half of food-stamp recipients already work.

Perdue’s rules, just in time for the holiday season, come on top of previous Trump-imposed tougher work requirements for users of Medicaid, the federal medical care program for the poor. Five states have already imposed those new rules, but the first in which they took effect was Arkansas.

Those new rules order Medicaid users to report, online, every month, that they spent at least 80 hours seeking jobs or in job training. If they miss three months or don’t have enough hours, they get tossed off the rolls—until the following January.

In Arkansas, the impact has been drastic, and it could get worse. The state has thrown almost 17,000 people off Medicaid since September, the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, which covers health issues, reports. That includes 4,655 just in the first week of December. Another 1,936 missed the 80-hours targets in October and November and unless they make the grade in December, could get tossed off in January—and then can’t get Medicaid for a year.

And federal figures show Arkansas is among the worst states in residents’ internet access. One in five Arkansans doesn’t have it. (Mississippi is last: 26.8 of its residents can’t get on the web.)

Needless to say, both Trump moves drew fire from public officials and interest groups who look out for the needs of the needy.

DeLauro’s Protect SNAP Act would override the Trump-Perdue food stamp rules. Not only is DeLauro a top House appropriator, she’s also a former chair of the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee, which directly handles food stamps.

“President Trump’s cruelty could not be clearer: Passing trillions in tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations—on top of the massive giveaways to corporate agribusinesses in the 2018 farm bill—while taking food assistance away from the unemployed. The Administration’s own data shows it will put millions of Americans at risk of going hungry and cut SNAP by billions of dollars.

“The Trump administration is shamelessly picking up where House Republicans left off because they could not get this passed in Congress. Instead of listening to the will of the American people, Secretary Purdue decided to jam through a regulation that punishes people for being poor. That is unconscionable. We cannot cut off this vital lifeline by rigging SNAP against the very people who the program was created to help.”

Added Robert Greenstein, director of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank: “The people whom the rule change would affect are among the poorest of the poor, USDA data show. Their average income is just 33 percent, or one-third, of the poverty line.”

And those single 18-49-year-olds are already limited to getting just three months of food stamps within three-year periods, Greenstein noted. They can get the food stamps if they’re working or in training, but states don’t have to provide training programs “and most states don’t.” Job searching, by the way, doesn’t count, he added.

There is one escape hatch, and Trump’s food stamp rules close it, Greenstein noted. USDA can give states waivers of that three-month food stamp limit for areas of high joblessness, such as Appalachia or inner cities. Perdue proposed dumping the waivers.

Arkansas’ ejection of Medicaid users for not reporting at least 80 hours of job training and/or job searching in the prior month was so high that even a federal Medicaid panel raised a red flag with Trump Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, whose agency runs Medicaid.

“The low-level of” Medicaid job search “reporting is a strong warning signal that the current processes may not be structured in a way that provides individuals an opportunity to succeed, with high stakes for beneficiaries who fail,” the federal Medicaid and CHIP Access Commission wrote on Nov. 8 to Azar. “As a result, the commission calls for a pause in dis-enrollments.”

And the food stamp rules fly in the face of the Farm Bill, which Trump signed just the day before Perdue’s decree. Lawmakers “rejected the House farm bill’s cuts and other harmful changes to SNAP that would have caused more than one million households with more than two million people to lose their benefits altogether or face reductions in them,” Greenstein added.

That didn’t stop the right wing—and not just Trump—from emulating Scrooge.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, whose panel Republicans wrote the original farm bill their congressional colleagues later rejected, applauded Trump and Perdue for doing what the GOP-run Congress didn’t: Taking food stamps away.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture took another step in restoring integrity to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” Conaway crowed. “The administration’s proposed rule reins in state waivers from the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents.”


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.