Donald Trump has always framed himself as a “jobs president” who would bring prosperity back to America and lift millions out of poverty. The latest USDA figures suggest he is well on the way to achieving that goal, as over half a million people removed themselves from food stamp enrollment in just one month, from December to January.
Food stamp usage has steadily dropped throughout the Trump presidency; now the USDA numbers, headlining over at the IOTW Report, are a major victory for the Trump administration, which has boosted employment and sought to raise struggling Americans out of welfare dependency.
The administration has been proactive in promoting an improved welfare system, floating suggestions for reforming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to minimize fraud and maximize the nutritional benefits to recipients. Drug testing and the replacement of EBT cards with food boxes are two of the Department of Agriculture’s recent ideas and Trump’s proposed 2018 budget intended to cut SNAP by $213 billion over the next 10 years.
In April, President Trump signed an executive order on welfare, making it a priority to strengthen and introduce work requirements for recipients as well as other measures such as eliminating wasteful spending, streamlining bureaucracy, and promoting “principles of economic mobility.”
One reason behind the drop in SNAP enrollment is the enforcement of work requirements. First introduced by the Clinton administration in 1996 for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD), work requirements were put on hold when the Obama administration allowed states to waive them as part of its 2009 economic stimulus package, resulting in a soaring number of SNAP recipients. While this may have been a reasonable expectation during the financial struggles of the so-called Great Recession, a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) accuses states of abusing the waiver scheme. According to the report, “federal loopholes have allowed states to game the system, keeping millions of able-bodied adults trapped in dependency,” despite record employment levels and job openings. According to the FGA, 10 states including California, Louisiana and others have been gerrymandering and using “outdated data” to keep the waivers fully or partially going.
Federal law states that to receive SNAP benefits, recipients must fulfill 20 hours of work, training, or community service unless they are limited by a disability, pregnancy, or need to care for dependents such as children or elderly relatives.
One early returnee to work requirements was Kansas, which saw a 75% drop in SNAP enrollments after reintroducing the requirement in 2013. Other states followed suit, as further discussed by LN’s Andrew Moran here. Georgia and Alabama reintroduced work requirements in 2017 with dramatic results and Tennessee reinstated them on February 1 of this year.
Anecdotal evidence indicates that legal and illegal immigrants have been withdrawing from food stamp programs, worried that it could alert the government to their circumstances and result in deportation or prevention from obtaining citizenship. A draft executive order leaked in January titled “Protecting Taxpayer Resources by Ensuring our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability and Responsibility” sparked fear among immigrants, many of whom are alleged to have left food stamps programs as a result, although the order was never implemented.
According to George J. Borjas, a labor economist and specialist in immigration at Harvard, 42% of households headed by a non-citizen received some variety of public assistance. While illegal immigrants are not themselves eligible to receive food benefits, many are the heads of mixed-eligibility households, where their U.S. born children are entitled to SNAP benefits.
Miguelina Diaz, the organization’s Food Support Connections Program Manager for the non-profit organization Hunger Free America, told the Washington Post that she was asked by two illegal immigrant SNAP recipients to be removed from the program. She said:
“They’re making these decisions based on what they hear in the news or information they’re getting from other people. People started asking questions right after Trump took office.”
The Maryland Food Bank has reported a decline from 20 Spanish language SNAP applications per month down to zero. Ricardo Batiz, a SNAP outreach coordinator at the food bank told the Post of his local Latino community:
“They’re staying away from me. I say hi to them, and they avoid me completely. I don’t know what they’ve been saying amongst themselves. But no one is signing up anymore, and the people who need to renew are not renewing.”
Jobs and Employment
It can be no coincidence that SNAP enrollments have fallen while employment has risen to its highest level in years. The first year of Trump’s administration oversaw a 0.7% fall in unemployment which has now hit 3.9%, the lowest recorded level since the year 2000. The last time unemployment stayed below 4% for an extended period of time was in the 1960s.
Trump has publicly remarked several times that wages have been rising under his watch after years of stagnation. Wages are indeed on a slow upward trend, having increased 2.9% over the past year. Although current wage growth is yet to reach pre-recession levels, Goldman Sachs bankers are predicting greater improvement in both employment and wages while Joseph Brusuelas, chief U.S. economist at tax consultancy company RSM, told CNN that 2018 “will be a year of rising wages and the tightest labor market in over a generation.”
As more and more Americans find themselves in work with gradually increasing paychecks, it’s no wonder that food stamps enrollment is dropping by the millions. A blossoming economy coupled with the renewed commitment to economic mobility and an efficient welfare system means that food stamps can be used the way they were originally intended: as short-term relief for people who temporarily fall on hard times.