By Anne Price | Medium

Last week, the Trump administration issued a punitive new rule in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) that is projected to push 700,000 of the most destitute Americans off the program. The new rule not only undermines the purpose of the SNAP program, which is to expand during economic downturns and tackle food insecurity, but also intentionally harms marginally employed Americans.

Since 1996, non-disabled adults without dependents (ages 18 through 49), commonly referred to as “able-bodied” adults, are limited to 3 months of benefits out of every 36 months if they are not working 20 hours a week or showing participation in a work training program. Governors of states with high unemployment rates, however, can ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the entity that runs SNAP) to waive this time limit, allowing people to receive benefits beyond the statutory time limits set for the program. Thirty-six states currently have waivers from the three-month cutoff, but beginning in April 2020 the new rule imposes stricter criteria that states must meet in order to receive a waiver.

The focus on the “able-bodied” is as old as the English poor law dating back to 1601 — this set of laws laid the groundwork for social policy in the United States — distinguishing between people who we thought should be working, and those who couldn’t work for a reason. It set the foundation for who we see as deserving and undeserving today. And how we divide people into the deserving and undeserving is deeply racialized.

For decades lawmakers have peddled tropes of government dependency and painted the “able-bodied” as lazy and cheats as a cover to attack SNAP. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement that “we’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” was taken from a very old playbook. He was dog-whistling a tired, age-old trope of deservedness and race.

A similar, but much more racially explicit sentiment was echoed back in 2012, when Republican Rick Santorum was running for President and calling for SNAP reforms. “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money,” Santorum said. “I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.” Santorum was clearly articulating that he simply does not believe the government should be helping Black people, ignoring historic and current government-sponsored policies that contribute to the economic insecurity of Black people.

Click here to read Anne’s full piece.