In announcing that the House will vote this week on legislation to cut SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) by $40 billion over ten years, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the following:
“No law-abiding beneficiary who meets the income and asset tests of the current program and is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose their benefits under the bill.”
Two plus two isn’t five and the earth isn’t flat. Rep. Cantor’s statement is no more accurate than those claims.
Here are the facts.
In 1996, two conservative House Republicans offered an amendment to the welfare bill to limit food stamps to adults aged 18-50 who aren’t raising minor children to three months while unemployed out of every three years. If such individuals were not employed at least 20 hours a week or participating in a workfare or job training program at least 20 hours a week, their benefits would end after three months. The amendment passed and became law.
Most states and local workforce boards don’t run large-scale workfare or training programs for these individuals, and for most of these people, no places are made available in such programs. If they can’t find a job, their food stamps are cut off.
The measure’s sponsors defended the provision in 1996 against charges that it was draconian, partly by stressing that it explicitly authorized governors to seek temporary waivers from the three-month cut-off for areas that had high unemployment or otherwise lacked sufficient jobs. Since 1996, governors of both parties have requested and received such waivers, especially during the recent years of high unemployment.
The bill that Majority Leader Cantor is bringing to the House this week cuts $20 billion in SNAP benefits by eliminating this waiver authority. No matter how high the unemployment rate in a locality or a state, the three-month cut-off would apply.
That means that people who pound the pavement looking for work but can’t find a job in an area with unemployment at 8, 10, even 25 percent would be summarily thrown off SNAP after three months. The average income of those who would be affected is 22 percent of the poverty line (about $2,500 a year for an individual), according to Agriculture Department data. These are some of the poorest people in America.
So, Cantor’s statement — “No law-abiding beneficiary who … is willing to comply with applicable work requirements will lose benefits” — is deeply deceptive. Many very poor people who are looking hard for work and willing to take any job they can find, but can’t land a job in three months, would see their food assistance ripped away. No one would know that from Cantor’s soothing statement.