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Attacks continue on the U.S. safety net for the poor

December 19, 2019  -  Vol 6 No 27 (This column published in print in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder on 12/19/2019)


It’s part of a series of attacks on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) that will have a huge impact on working families in Minnesota, including kids and seniors. It’s what they call death by a thousand cuts.    -   Allison O’Toole

The President has cynically weaponized the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) as a blunt political instrument, in clear opposition to its mission to ‘do right and feed everyone.’   -  U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge


Earlier this year the federal government bandied about a proposal that would, in effect, lower the federal poverty threshold. According to both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP), these suggested changes to how we measure poverty in this nation would have “endangered millions” of people.

Hundreds of thousands, if not more, would have lost access to programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) among several others. Moreover, millions stood to lose their food support benefits (through SNAP) had changes to the poverty guidelines actually been enacted.

Now, just two weeks ago the USDA announced a rule change that will go into effect in April of 2020. This new rule increases the work requirements for those seeking support through SNAP, specifically “able-bodied” adults without dependents. Upwards of a million Americans, including thousands of Minnesotans stand to lose their access to food support.

As Hunger Solution Minnesota’s Colleen Moriarty recently told the Star Tribune, this particular population has frequently been “targeted by some as people who are too lazy to work. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Many in that population include veterans with PTSD, the homeless, and those with mental health issues.”

Food shelves around the state are already bracing for a significant increase in the number of visits they will see in 2020. Consider that in 2018, Second Harvest Heartland distributed the equivalent of nearly 90 million meals. That is because approximately one in every 10 Minnesotans struggles with hunger, a number that will only increase as the result of the USDA’s new rule.

The rationale for this rule, as cited by officials from the USDA, is to help push individuals toward self-sufficiency and “restore the dignity of work.” But, who out there is questioning the dignity of work? What about the dignity of earning a living wage?

As Allison O’Toole of Second Harvest Heartland succinctly states, “People are underemployed. They’re living paycheck to paycheck.” And again, as has been noted by many experts of late, there are a myriad of Americans who can’t work for very legitimate reasons.

Since we’re now on the subject of work, let’s explore that a little closer. In the past two years there have been a number of studies revealing that Americans work more than anyone else in the world. CityLab, “The Atlantic” and “The Nation” are among the many who’ve recently explored this trend.

Then there’s a 2018 report from the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics saying one-third of American workers clock-in at over 45 hours per week, while approximately 10 million log 60 hours or more. For the sake of transparency, many of these individuals work in the white-collar sector. But a great many of them don’t.

According to the latest data from the Department of Labor, almost eight million Americans have more than one job. Writing for “Business Insider,” Pedro Nicolaci da Costa suggests that these figures “should not be mistaken as a sign of healthy entrepreneurship.” Instead, underemployment and sluggish wages continue to rule the day for far too many in this country.

What has all of this work yielded? It’s made us sicker. It’s caused us to get less sleep. It’s come with more stress and stress-related illness.

It means that more and more of us are having to work two or three jobs simply to make ends meet. Plus, fewer and fewer of our seniors are able to retire at 65. It’s simply not possible anymore. So, I ask again, where is the dignity in that?

In the past year, there’s actually been another plan floated around in the halls of Congress that would reduce or end benefits to 20 million Americans who only work between 30 to 39 hours per week. That’s generally considered full-time employment in 2019. These are the working poor by the way, and America is threatening to cut their benefits?

Now we’re looking to eliminate food support for veterans and others who suffer from mental illness. To my mind, that’s just undignified. Not to mention just plain wicked.

Clarence Hightower is the Executive Director of Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties. Dr. Hightower holds a Ph.D. in urban higher education from Jackson State University. He welcomes reader responses to 450 Syndicate Street North, St. Paul, MN 55104.

Our Impact This Year

  • People Who Received Utility Bill Assistance


  • Children Enrolled in Head Start & Early Head Start


  • People Whose Utility Bills Were Lowered Through Home Weatherization


  • Workers Provided with Transportation Support Including Vehicle Loans, Repair Grants, and Transit Passes


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