Earlier this week, we witnessed the latest attacks on working class Americans by the Trump Administration as it attempts to make federal programs harder to access under the guise of “welfare reform.” Make no mistake, this effort to slash nearly every program designed to help low-income families get by is deliberate.
Without much fanfare, the President signed yet another executive order that redefines everything from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to Medicaid to Unemployment Insurance to child care as “welfare” as noted in the language of the order: “The terms “welfare” and “public assistance” include any program that provides means-tested assistance, or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households, or families that have low incomes (i.e., those making less than twice the Federal poverty level), the unemployed, or those out of the labor force.”
This order tears at the very fabric of what’s left of our safety net in America. For instance, SNAP provides an average of $1.40 per person per meal; most families exhaust the benefit by the third week of each month. Housing assistance reaches 1 in 5 eligible families. Those without aid spend up to 80 percent of their income for rent and utilities. Fewer than 1 in 4 poor families with children get help through Assistance for Needy Families. In some states, children are more likely to be placed in foster care rather than be allowed to stay in their homes that receive as little as $6 a day in benefits.
In his executive order, the President seeks to impose harsh work requirements despite decades of research that show work requirements do not help anyone work. Yet, this effort is at the heart of the conservative strategy that reinforces many of the myths about poverty in America – remember “welfare queen” and “they just don’t want to work” claims?
As I wrote recently, it’s easy to pull yourself up by the bootstraps if you have bootstraps. In reality, millions of Americans are working two and three jobs to make ends meet. We know that half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Recent studies found that nearly half of all Americans have less than $400 in the bank, and that 70 percent of us will turn to some form of means-tested assistance – like SNAP or Medicaid – in our lives.
We can do something about this. Wage reform would be a start. I find it shocking that there isn’t a single state in the country in which a minimum wage worker ( $7.25 ) can afford a one-bedroom apartment at market rate. And yet, Republicans in Congress just gave millionaires and billionaires a massive tax cut. If they really wanted to improve people’s lives, they might have recognized that a wage of $12 would have saved $53 billion in SNAP alone over the next decade. Sadly, the President didn’t consider a wage increase in his order to “promote opportunity and economic mobility.”
What’s behind this divide and conquer attitude? We know Americans don’t want Medicaid cut. There’s overwhelming opposition to cuts to SNAP, housing, Social Security disability payments, home heating assistance and many more programs that sustain families.
Regardless of political party, Americans want programs that will help families realize what we once recognized as the American Dream. Instead, we’re confronted with an administration that seems intent on betraying the “forgotten men and women” who depend on the very programs now under attack.
I promise to keep talking about these issues and intend to share the stories I hear during my campaign with others so they know they’re not alone in this fight to preserve and protect programs so vital to the entire working and middle class in our country.