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Sun, Sept. 22

Micek: Trump’s next target? Food stamp recipients

So here’s another reminder that the soul of who we are as a nation, our fundamental conception of ourselves as a people, is on the line in the 2020 election.

Last week, the Trump administration announced plans to throw three million of the most vulnerable Americans off food stamps, claiming it’s a money-saving move.

In the timing almost hilarious in its irony, this news came just hours after the administration and congressional leaders agreed to a budget deal that will boost federal spending by $50 billion in the coming fiscal year.

Given this administration’s gold-plated predisposition to the 1 percent (its faux populist posturing notwithstanding), describing this proposed cut as “cruel” and “heartless” doesn’t really do it justice.

Congressional Republicans, of course, have long had a hang-up on food stamps. Attempts to eliminate or scale-back the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (as food stamps are formally known) go back years.

In Trump, they now have a sympathetic ear.

But it’s not as if we’re talking about a real plush program.

“The average monthly benefit currently stands at $134.85 for an individual, which works out to about $4.50 per day or $1.50 per meal,” Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote this week.

In other words, that’s lunch out at McDonald’s for our fast-food addicted chief executive. Or it’s a single snack, at arena prices, at one of Trump’s hockey stadium rallies.

Hiltzik went on to note that, despite what you may have heard, food stamp fraud is “minimal.”

“According to the Congressional Research Service, about 5.19 percent of SNAP benefits were overpayments, but only 11 percent of those overpayments resulted from fraud,” he wrote. “That places the fraud rate at about 0.57 percent. The rest of the overpayments were due to errors by agencies or recipients.”

During a speech to business leaders and policymakers this week, Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said one recipient had told her of being hounded and verbally abused in a grocery store parking lot after using her electronic benefits card.

Programs like food stamps are “lifelines” to people who are “already working poverty-level jobs,” Miller said during that noon-time speech in the state capital of Harrisburg, where her audience shoveled down a lunch out of reach of most food stamp recipients.

“They’re as much there for when our own circumstances change, as they are for the people who are using [the services] now,” she continued. “Our investment in these programs goes to all of us.”

Pay close attention to what Miller is saying there: These programs are for more than just the poor. Like unemployment, they’re there for the rest of us when life throws the inevitable curveball.

And if you think that’s not you, you’re fooling yourself.

According to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 2018 Survey of Household Economics and Decision Making: 40 percent of Americans would struggle to come up with even $400 to cover an unexpected bill.

That’s an astonishing statistic for one of the wealthiest nations on Earth. But it’s also a vivid reminder that, as much as we hear about the booming stock market and the low jobless rate, too many Americans are being left behind.

Some of the leading Democratic 2020 candidates - like Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont - have made economic justice the cornerstones of their campaigns.

Those who oppose Trump and his policies already know that pushing back against, and defeating, the racist and xenophobic bile that is clearly a trait, not a tic, of this administration is the critical.

But the coming election is also about making sure that America passes what the late Hubert Humphrey called the “moral test” of government: how it treats those in the dawn, twilight, and shadows of life.

Trump’s White House has already proven that it’s all-too-willing to cast both the strangers in our land, and those without the means to defend themselves, into the darkness.

It’s up to progressives to shine a light on this callous behavior so that the mass of voters can look clearly upon it, and say, in no uncertain terms, that this isn’t the kind of country that we want to be now, nor the one that we want to hand to our children and grandchildren.

It’s a moral test that we cannot afford to fail.

An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at jmicek@penncapital-star.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.

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