Leavitt: 2020 New Year’s resolution: The Poverty Diet

By Irv Leavitt for Chronicle Media

Irv Leavitt

I’m thrilled that we have fixed our $22 trillion national debt by denying profligate $127 monthly food stamp payments.

Got ’er done!

About $1 billion a year is wasted on Americans who refuse to work, and live off our taxes instead! They’re gaming the system!

So as of April 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be enforcing the old law that requires that if unemployment is down, no food stamps should be paid to “able-bodied adults (18 to 49) without dependents” who should be able to get jobs, and buy their own food. No more waivers for places with high unemployment! After all, there isn’t high unemployment anymore!

We’ll show ’em. Take away their food stamps and they’ll have to work. Stop spoiling ’em!

Was that as much fun to read as it was to write? Sure it was. Don’t we all, in our heart of hearts, want to get tough? Don’t we dream of incentivizing people to work by dragging them away from the government teat?

But we’re not dreaming. It’s the real world, where there are people who are unemployable, or nearly so, temporarily or permanently.

Some of them are mentally challenged just enough to be turned away by almost everybody who might write them a bi-weekly paycheck, but not enough to be officially disabled.

Many of our cities don’t have enough mental health clinics to help poor people qualify for disability under any circumstances. But that’s apparently acceptable, because that saves money, too.

There are some people with sketchy work histories who can’t get even the minimum 20 hours of employment per week to qualify for government benefits.

Who can’t work 20 hours a week? Here’s a scoop: If you can’t get hired for a full-time job, you may not be able to get a 20-hour-per-week job, either.

And if you do get work, and work just a little more than the minimum, you hit the maximum dollar amount, and you immediately lose your Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotment (SNAP is what the food stamp program has been called for decades).

When you lose SNAP, you lose Medicaid. And the reporting standards are stringent. So you’re walking a tightrope between working enough and working too much, and a false step may land you in the no-health-care fall to the floor of the Big Top.

Here’s another news flash. About 250 people emerge from Illinois incarceration every week. About 200 of them can’t find a place to live. Who wants to rent an apartment to an ex-con? And if you don’t have a place to live, you probably can’t get a job. So no home and no SNAP.

Conversely, those who can’t get a job usually can’t get a place to live, either. And when was the last time you hired a parolee?

Remember that non-existent high unemployment? The rate for black men 20-24 years of age is 11.9 percent. That’s 5 percent higher than a year ago.

The SNAP change came by order of the White House. More orders are coming this year that would affect poor families, not just singles. They include skimping on utility costs, which would mostly involve families who live where it gets cold, in the urban, Democratic north.

Even with these changes, recipients would be able to get their entire heating costs paid if they submitted documentation of their actual heating bills.

Many social workers would laugh dolefully at that last sentence because they know what documentation reports are all about. They save government money in two unexpected ways.

One, they add more forms to fill out, and that’s a big deal. SNAP applications run about 18 pages, and they’re very hard to figure out unless you have help or have done them before. They ask the same questions over and over, in different ways, like an interrogator trying to catch you in a lie.

Many recipients suspect that the reason the forms are so impenetrable is to discourage application. They suspect that because it happens.

Two, any time the feds say we’re cutting back a program, for whatever reason, a certain percentage of legitimately needy prospective beneficiaries hear about that, and don’t apply. They just assume that all the bad things that have been happening to them lately are just continuing, and they’ll go through the application process only to be refused.

If they get approved, being in the program is no party. People wind up praying the grocery checkout clerks will be nice to them.

But welfare is relative. The Market Facilitation Program payments to farms to assuage their losses due to our tariff war adventures now come to about half the annual cost of the SNAP program — before the cuts. And small farms are going out of business, anyway.

The MFP program may dry up soon, too. The loss of that money may actually be a double whammy for farmers, together with the SNAP changes. Food stamps may be the most efficient way of supporting American farmers and food producers. All of the SNAP money goes back into the economy, eventually reaching farmers. That’s why SNAP is always included in federal farm bills.

But that’s not an important part of the USDA/White House thought process right now. Both the poor and the farmers are being bullied, in ways that some politicians have desired for many years.

But if you want to have healthy farms, promote open markets. It’s a lot cheaper.

If you want to drive non-workers toward employment, there are decent and effective ways to do that, too.

Starving them is probably not one of them.