By Jill Richardson
Once again, Republicans are taking aim at poor people.
What is it this time? Adding a stricter work requirement to receive what used to be known as food stamps. (Today it’s known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
If the Republican House bill goes through, anyone between the ages of 18 and 59 will have to work or participate in a work training program for 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamp benefits.
Frankly, this is both disgusting and counterproductive. Let me explain why.
First of all, among other things, food stamps are an incredible economic stimulus. For every $1 spent on food stamps, the economy gets a $1.79 boost. Every $1 billion spent on food stamps results in creating an additional 8,900 to 17,900 full-time jobs.
In other words, cutting food stamps cuts jobs.
Making it harder to get food stamps will, in effect, cut food stamps – and therefore cut jobs.
How so? Well, most people on food stamps who can work already do.
About two out of five food stamp recipients live in households where someone works. They’re the working poor. They work, but don’t make enough money to make ends meet.
What about the rest, who have no income? One in five are disabled, and one quarter are elderly.
For many Americans, there’s a moral obligation to feed the hungry. Period, end of story, no more information needed. If somebody is hungry, feed them. The fact that feeding them creates jobs is just a bonus.
Let’s say you’re a skeptic, though. Who are these lazy people who just won’t work? And why can’t they work?
Turns out we’ve been here before, when we began requiring welfare recipients to have jobs or participate in training programs back in the 1990s. And, lucky for us, sociologists Jane Collins and Victoria Mayer researched the people affected by it and wrote a book about them called “Both Hands Tied.”
Note that the title is “Both Hands Tied” and not “Lazy People Who Should Get Off Their Duffs and Work.”
They found that most of the people on welfare had worked for most of their lives. In almost every single case, they went on welfare because a family member needed care and they had to stay home to do it, or they themselves were ill.
One woman had a severely disabled child that no day care would agree to accept. She had to stay home to care for her child, and therefore wasn’t able to work.
Is that the person you want to deny food stamps? The mother caring for her disabled child?
The job- training programs provided weren’t helpful either. They didn’t teach useful skills, and they didn’t lead to people finding long-term work.
I don’t know who’s on food stamps and not working. But since food stamps pay only for food and not for any other needs, odds are everyone who can work already does. It’s not possible to get by otherwise.
I’ve been on food stamps. Trust me, you aren’t living the good life when you have to get them. On the contrary, you must be so poor to even qualify that you’ll do just about anything to work for more income.
Adding a work requirement to food stamps is a mean-spirited and short-sighted move that will harm our economy while exacerbating hunger.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of “Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.” Distributed by OtherWords.org.