The Signal this Friday is the appalling spectacle of millions of Americans’ being deliberately cast into hunger by the federal government.
This week, the Trump administration formally published its punitive new vision of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The rules, which were first proposed earlier this year, essentially roll back an exception, crafted in the wake of the 2008 crash, that allows able-bodied adults to claim food stamps for more than three months in any three-year period if the area they live in has over 10 percent unemployment, or if their state has decided to issue county-by-county waivers to this requirement.
As of next April, the government won’t permit the granting of waivers to any counties with less than 6 percent unemployment. To continue being eligible for food stamps in these that are losing their waivers, recipients will either have to work or enroll in “work programs,” presumably somewhat akin to the make-work systems created in the wake of welfare reform of 1996.
The US Agriculture Department, which administers the program, estimates that 688,000 people will lose their SNAP benefits as a result. But it gets worse: This is just the first of a series of changes to SNAP the administration is now aggressively pushing. As I wrote in my last column, if all the changes kick in, ultimately many millions of Americans will either lose access to food stamps or end up with extreme reductions in the value of the food stamps they receive.
Ironically, many of the states that will be hit worst are GOP strongholds in the South: Florida, Georgia, and Texas all stand to see hundreds of thousands of residents losing benefits over the coming years. Maybe Trump was right that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base wouldn’t abandon him. We’ll see how they react when they realize he’s taking away their ability to feed themselves and their families.
This is in keeping with an increasingly draconian vision of the social safety net. Over the past months, HUD has refused to release “point in time” counts of homeless populations in urban centers, the estimates of which are used by states such as California to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars to localities to tackle homelessness. This week California Governor Gavin Newsom blasted the Trump administration for playing politics by refusing to certify the numbers provided by California cities. Having lost patience with the process, he simply began releasing hundreds of millions of dollars to localities even without federal approval.
Meanwhile, in a further indication that the administration is looking to penalize rather than help the homeless, Trump appointed Robert Marbut to head an interagency council on homelessness. Marbut’s previous claim to fame, as a consultant, was pushing cities to pass ordinances banning charity groups from feeding the homeless on city streets. Matthew Doherty, the Obama appointee who was kicked out to make way for Marbut, has been hired by California.
And the Noise? The horrendous sound of California Representative Tom McClintock demanding of law professors testifying in the impeachment inquiry whether they voted for Trump. The bleat of Trump calling French President Emmanuel Macron “nasty” and Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau “two-faced.” The inanity of Trump’s suggesting a 100 percent tariff on French goods sold in the United States. And the jet-engine roar signifying that a sulking American leader is heading home early from the London NATO summit after several other presidents and premiers were caught on a hot mic mocking the petulant, spoiled, man-child they had spent the past couple days trying to humor and placate.