Hungry people need food, not government red tape

December 22, 2018

When the history of the Trump era in American politics is written, we predict that “cruelty” will be the word frequently used to describe this administration’s often disjointed actions.

Whether putting children in detention centers along the border, seeking to impose immigration bans on certain religions groups or countries, reducing protections for transgender individuals, ridiculing political opponents and the press before cheering crowds or on social media — and that’s a very short list of his harmful actions — the common theme is cruelty.

Now,the Trump administration is unveiling a plan that could force hundreds of thousands more Americans off food stamps if they can’t find work. President Donald Trump is using executive action to further this goal, pushing through by the stroke of a pen what he could not win support for in Congress. This is wrong both as policy and in procedure.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture already requires most adults without dependents to work if they have received food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — for more than three months over three years.

States can waive such requirements, however, if unemployment reaches certain levels. There is flexibility, in other words, so that people who need help and can’t find a job don’t go hungry. USDA officials now want waivers only in areas where unemployment is above 7 percent, making it hard to grant exceptions considering that the national unemployment rate is 3.7 percent (New Mexico’s unemployment rate is around 4.5 percent).

Tens of thousands of the 2.8 million people who receive food stamps who don’t take care of children or other dependents could lose access to food. They don’t need artificial barriers to getting the food they need.

The stricter requirements were placed in the House version of the $870 billion farm bill, but could not pass through the Senate. That’s why Trump has proposed the changes through executive action; the new rules will be published in the Federal Register, with the public given 60 days to comment. It is likely that Democrats will challenge the move, arguing that such an executive action is attempting an end run around Congress. We need equal branches of government, not an imperial president.

The problem with work requirements — whether through statute or administrative rule — is that they create unnecessary red tape for already vulnerable people.

To be eligible for federal food assistance, people have to find jobs (which aren’t always available) or go through job-training programs (which aren’t always fully funded). They have to provide proof of the job or the search. That can mean frequent trips to the food stamp office to fill out forms, all difficult for people who might not have a car or money for gas.

Rather than spending money to help feed people, our government seems more interested in spending dollars trying to find ways to disqualify people.

No one wants hardworking taxpayers to have to buy the food of people who are shiftless or otherwise don’t want to work. But the truth is, people sometimes can’t afford all the food they need. Other people are too sick to work or don’t qualify for jobs near them. Some people lack skills.

Instead of demanding that people work or else, offering more training or education and supporting work programs that people can join when they are able seems to be more sensible.

Creating additional red tape or adding to the layers of bureaucracy is not the best use of government resources and time.

Make food assistance widely and easily available to people who say they are hungry. Decrease the number of hoops the poor must jump through to get help. Then, redirect the energy that goes to try and stop people from receiving food aid into making sure there is food enough so that no one in the United States go hungry. Such a policy would be both compassionate and practical. Most of all, it would not be cruel.

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