Nearly 80 percent of working-age people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work or are looking for work or are disabled, yet Republicans—in this case, Trump Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue—keep talking like there’s some epidemic of people who could work deciding that instead, they’d rather survive on a couple dollars a day of food stamps.
He suggested the next farm bill should “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance.”
According to Bloomberg reporter Alan Bjerga, Perdue expanded on that theme in remarks Wednesday:
“It’s evident that there are able-bodied adults without dependents who are on the food stamp program, who we believe it is in their best interests, and their families’ best interests, to move into an independent lifestyle,” Perdue told reporters Wednesday at an event on a farm outside Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. “During the last downturn, it became a lifestyle for some people. We don’t want it to become permanent.”
Aside from the 57 percent of working-age people on SNAP who work or are looking for work and the 22 percent who have disabilities, the remainder of the “able-bodied adults without dependents” in the program already face work requirements. As an able-bodied adult without dependents, you can only get three months of SNAP in a three-year period if you don’t work, go to school or work a training program, or do workfare. If you don’t have dependents and you don’t work, food stamps cannot become a permanent lifestyle for anyone. So it’s just not clear what Perdue is even talking about here, but we can make some guesses.
First off, if Republicans can make the general public believe that there are a lot of lazy people kicking back on their luxurious average per-person benefit of $125 per month, or $1.40 per meal, it becomes easier to attack the program’s funding. Attacking SNAP funding means taking food away from kids and working adults and elderly people and people with disabilities, but if Republicans can obscure that fact, the cuts they plan will be less unpopular. Beyond that, we can only guess what specific plans the Trump administration has to make which specific groups of people currently on SNAP go hungry—or, make that, hungrier than they already are. But Perdue is laying the groundwork to go after a program that keeps millions of Americans, many of them children, from serious hunger.