The House GOP’s Insane Plan To Increase Record Poverty

Washington's set to go from not doing enough to actively adding to our unconscionable poverty rate, slashing food stamps as poverty languishes.

That's because the House Republicans have a plan to double-down in their cuts to the Supplemental Assistance for Needy Families (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Meanwhile, new Census data shows that record poverty rates, which rose sharply during the recession, have not been helped by our milquetoast recovery. They stayed flat at an historic high of 15 percent in 2012. 

That isn’t to say that government policy doesn't work. Conservatives love to point to rising food stamp enrollment as evidence of social insurance fraud, or to argue that simultaneously rising poverty and rising food stamp enrollment are evidence of the program's failure. The Census numbers tell another story: in 2012, current SNAP enrollment lifted four million Americans above the poverty line. That makes it our third most effective poverty relief program, after the Earned Income Tax Credit and Social Security, at a fraction of the cost. If the goal is to maximize our impact in reducing poverty, food stamps are an overwhelming success.

And they've been growing in importance in accordance to the weakening economy.

The issue, then, lies not in overuse of food stamps but in the declining economic prospects for the poor and middle-classes overall. Stagnating income, which directly correlates to increasing poverty, hasn’t rebounded from its steep decline since the recession.

Median income also failed to rebound in 2012, the third year of the recovery, following five years of decline.

Yet despite weak economic prospects and a successfull food stamp program, today House Republicans are set to vote on a bill as early as Thursday to double down their June proposal to gut SNAP. The House already set the stage for such cuts, separating SNAP into a stand-alone piece of legislation from its usual place as a part of the comprehensive farm bill.

So what would the House GOP plan do to one of our most essential poverty-prevention programs? The bill would add an additional $19 billion dollars in cuts to a proposal in June to cut $20.5 billion over ten years. The Center on Budget Policy Priorities finds that the bill will cut SNAP benefits to nearly four million people in 2014 and to an average of nearly three million people each year over the coming decade. Robert Greenstein, the CBPP’s president, summarizes why the bill is so draconian:

The so-called “work requirement” provision of the June farm bill would let states cut off non-elderly adults, including parents with children as young as 1, who are not working at least 20 hours a week or enrolled in a work or training program for at least 20 hours a week, even if they want to work and are looking hard for a job but can’t find one—regardless of local labor market conditions

And that's just the twenty billion in cuts from June. The current proposal contains twice the economic pain. There are many, many other cruel aspects in the House GOP's current bill, that the CBPP details exhaustively, but the broader point is clear: as a result of an ideology that blames recipients of food stamps for an inability to find work, the House GOP will increase the ranks of the poor.

Demonizing the poor is insane at a time of record poverty and stagnant incomes. A War on Poverty (not to mention the renewed War on Poverty we need) can only succeed if it's funded. In the end, a just polity would be expanding SNAP, not cutting it down.