Food stamp benefits will be slashed in 2018

Jeff vonKaenel

Should Americans be allowed to starve to death? Or allowed to die from malnutrition? Or rely on handouts at food banks and churches to stay alive?

Starting in the fall of 2018, around one million unemployed adults nationwide will likely have their benefits cut off. That includes 100,000 Californians who are currently receiving $192 a month in CalFresh (food stamp) benefits here in the Golden State. Those “able-bodied adults without dependents” who are not currently employed or unable to work* will be limited to CalFresh benefits for three months out of every 36- month period—three months in three years.

While President Trump is proposing even more benefit cuts, these are coming because the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, has more generous benefits for areas with higher unemployment. For years since the 2008 Great Recession, California’s high unemployment rate meant that the whole state had expanded coverage. But now that the state’s unemployment rate has been going down, it will no longer qualify for this expanded coverage with the exception of a few California counties, particularly in the Central Valley that continue to have high unemployment.

In the Sacramento region, many of those who depend upon their $6.40 a day (or less) in food stamps are going to be hard pressed to make ends meet, especially those who are struggling to overcome higher housing costs. Some may have to make the choice of whether to pay for rent or for food.

The food banks are already struggling to deal with the demands of people who need emergency food. They will be even more overwhelmed. These changes will also increase frustrations and administrative costs at the county’s CalFresh offices. Telling hungry people that there is no relief is not easy.

The rationale for limiting benefits to three months in three years is that when there is relatively low unemployment, people who can work should just get jobs. And there’s the misguided idea that someone who is receiving $6.40 a day for food will lose their desire for a regular paycheck.

A minimum wage job would pay about $84 a day. That’s a significant improvement over $6.40 a day. I think most people would choose the job. But where do they find this job? With an unemployment rate of only four percent, that still means that one out of 25 people cannot find work. And many jobs that are available require some skill. I consider myself able-bodied, but I doubt I could pick fruit fast enough to stay employed on any farm.

The government could be the employer of last resort, paying individuals who cannot find employment in the private sector to work at jobs that need to be done. During the 1930s, the unemployed were put to work in a myriad of public infrastructure jobs, building roads, buildings, bridges, sewage treatment plants, schools and libraries. They fought fires and floods, vaccinated children and served school lunches. But doing that would cost significantly more than providing $6.40 a day in food stamps. So we don’t.

Instead we demonize those who need our support. And now the Republicans are proposing to increase income inequality in America with their new proposed tax plan that provides huge breaks for the top one percent. This tax cut for the wealthy could cost more than a trillion dollars. It would cost only one percent of that massive outlay to maintain food stamp benefits at current levels.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.