Todd Johnson / May 16, 2018

SNAP: Off the Dole and Back to Work

Republicans aim to revamp food stamps to help more people to be self-sufficient.

Every five years, Congress debates the merits of the multi-billion-dollar farm bill, which consists primarily of providing funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Commonly referred to as food stamps, the SNAP portion of the 2018 proposed bill amounts to about $70 billion per year. However, unlike their predecessors, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have let it be known that the ballooning costs of the SNAP program are unacceptable and must radically altered.

Like most “Great Society” legislation that was initiated during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the SNAP program was meant to help a small, needy minority of citizens who were fighting hunger on daily basis. In 1964, The Hill notes, the program “initially appropriated $75 million in benefits to 350,000 Americans (.001 of the 1964 US population).” Fast forward to 2016 and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that 44.2 million people (or 13% of the 2018 U.S. population) were receiving food stamps. This unprecedented growth in the 21st century is a head scratcher, especially considering that the latest jobs report from April shows a headline unemployment rate of 3.9%, the lowest since December 2000.

That is why Trump and Ryan, along with other Republicans, are keen to revamp SNAP and tailor it for the 21st century. The president and the speaker of the House are strong proponents of modifying work requirements for the program, which they believe will encourage people to get off of public assistance because they no longer need it. They, along with many other Republicans, are advocating shifting money from SNAP to jobs training, a change that will help the long-term prospects of people and give them the opportunity to lift them out of poverty.

The current version of the House Republican bill requires that an individual must work 80 hours per month to receive ongoing benefits, a move that will increase work requirements for all able-bodied adults. People who are disabled, pregnant or caring for a child under the age of six would be exempt from these proposed changes.

As to be expected, Democrats are portraying the GOP as cruel, unfeeling automatons who are determined to kick people into the streets without food. Rather than addressing the problem, they are instead launching another barrage of rhetoric meant to keep the status quo. This response alone should encourage Republican policymakers that they are on the right path.

No one in America wants to see their fellow citizens go hungry. Like many government policies, the food stamp program was meant to address a real problem. However, 54 years later, it’s time to seriously rethink the legislation and implement the work modifications that in the long run will lift people from the cycle of poverty. The Republican bill is a good start in getting people off of government programs and, in the words of Paul Ryan, “get[ting] them into work so that they can get on the escalator of life.”

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