Since the initial shutdown orders started going into effect in mid March, over 33 million people have lost their jobs. In response Congress has sent stimulus checks, fortified unemployment, bailed out businesses, and taken many other steps to assist people with their monthly obligations like rent/mortgage, utility bills, internet access, car payments, and other monthly obligations. The response has allocated trillions of dollars. There is one need that everyone has that occurs daily, in fact several times a day. Food.
Americans have lined up in their cars by the thousands to receive free food to feed their families. It’s amazing that within weeks of the crisis that people have had to resort to food banks, and it shows how extremely fragile our economy was despite statements by the Trump Administration to the contrary.
Amazing still is that this country has an existing infrastructure for food assistance called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Anyone who loses their employment can apply for this assistance and the dollar amount that you receive is based on your family’s size. The annual budget for this program is $68B (billion) dollars per year. A family of five, whose income qualifies for the assistance, can receive up to $762.00 per month. That might not sound like a lot of money, but when you don’t have any income or savings, that assistance is literally a lifesaver. So why aren’t people taking advantage of this program during these times that are so dire?
One huge reason is politics. Food stamps are traditionally viewed as a program that is for poor minorities. Furthermore, the SNAP program was vilified as an Obama program. As a matter of fact Obama was referred to as the food stamp president. During his eight year term, SNAP enrollment increased (carried over from the previous Bush administration) and the Right didn’t miss an opportunity to criticize the Obama administration. Still don’t believe me? Watch these videos.
That’s the political motivation: many white Americans would rather drive dozens of miles to receive food from a pantry. They don’t want to be associated with an Obama program even if it could save their lives (ACA, cough, Obamacare). The pejorative aside, anyone who needed to receive SNAP Assistance was relieved that it was available and thanked the Obama Administration for funding the program so aggressively. After all we were in the greatest recession since the Great Depression when Obama became president. I mean the worst until this president.
Another popular misconception is that the majority of food stamp recipients are minorities. Take a look at this chart from the Department of Agriculture.
You’ll notice that this chart was updated one year ago. Who was president one year ago? You guessed it. Donald Trump. And which race receives the most SNAP assistance? White people.
Interesting still is that right before Coronavirus hit the planet, the Trump Administration was trying to kick 700,000 people off of food stamps. His administration’s contention was that people needed to get back to work. There were more than enough jobs out there such that Americans did not need to rely on the federal government to supply something as basic as food. Gratefully Judge Beryl A. Howell of the District of Columbia ruled that the Trump Administration could not move forward with their rule change because of Coronavirus.
Since we have an existing infrastructure to provide financial assistance to people in need, and this is the worst contraction in the economy since the Great Depression, the answer seems simple. Provide emergency supplemental funding to the SNAP program. People are hungry! Given that the Congress has allocated trillions of dollars during this catastrophe, a few billion to help everyday Americans on main street should be simple.
If that’s what you think, you haven’t been paying attention to the Trump Administration. As always there has to be a way to help people, but also help corporate America at the same time. In fact the ideology seems to be that by helping corporate America first, you are also helping main street. So what’s Trump’s latest cerebral flatulence turned into policy?
Trump has decreed via tweet that the USDA is going to buy $3B worth of meat, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs that was otherwise going to waste so that it can be put into food boxes and given to struggling Americans. On its face this seems like a fantastic idea. Farmers and food manufacturers are literally destroying food because they can’t get it to market, and food banks are running out of food. Win-win. Right?
There are a couple of problems here. Number one transportation companies are being impacted by the Coronavirus because of lack of business. Providers need buyers for their products, but can’t ship them. Produce manufacturers need cheap labor to pick their fruits and vegetables, but they can’t find it. Meat manufacturers need testing for their employees so that they can keep up production, but they don’t have access to the tests. Finally, people are driving all over the place to get the food because their local grocery stores don’t have inventory.
All of these problems have been caused by the Trump Administration. Here are some observations off the top of my head. Temporarily suspend regulation for truck drivers so they can deliver food to local grocery stores, since Republicans hate regulation. Fruit and vegetable growers have traditionally used immigrants for the labor that they need to pick their crops, but Trump’s heavy-handed use of ICE has all but decimated the labor supply that is needed. Companies like Purdue, Tyson, and JBS can’t get the testing for their employees in their states. Furthermore, these companies are traditionally located in red states where the governors have been resistant to implement shelter-in-place orders. This, in addition to Trump’s premature push to open the economy, has exacerbated an already tenuous medical emergency and put these companies and their products at risk.
If the Trump administration had simply used the existing logistic, medical, retail, and government structures in place, the solution would have been cheaper, faster, and more efficient. My larger fear is that this isn’t about being cheaper, faster, or more efficient. Time will tell, but I suspect that we will see these Trump food boxes in rural America before we see them in urban America. This is another cynical ploy by the Trump Administration to shore up his voter base that he sees evaporating every day more and more based on his poor management of the Coronavirus.
There is larger hypocrisy at play here. Republicans have traditionally embraced the free market above all else. Trump even recently gave a speech at the United Nations and stated that the United States will never be a socialist country. He went on and on about capitalism and its virtues, and how socialism has destroyed countries. I could have a conversation here about whether socialism destroyed countries or if it was totalitarian rule that was the larger culprit. But I digress.
The Trump Administration specifically, and Republicans generally, have always stated that socialism has no place in the American experiment. But let’s take a moment and look at the definition of socialism. Socialism is a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.
I want to make sure that we are all on the same page. The Trump Administration is exchanging taxpayers’ money to buy $3B of food produced by the private sector (subsidized by taxpayers) so that the government can distribute it to Americans who need food to feed themselves and their families. That’s a great idea. It just sounds like socialism to me.
Trump isn’t going to give additional funding to the SNAP program. If he did, that money would go to blue states who give priority to all of its citizens. Instead, as usual, he is circumventing the system. You can call it whatever you want. Rather you give people SNAP or supplemental nutrition assistance in the form of food, it’s the same thing. Donald Trump might be our greatest food stamp president. As long as he provides the assistance to all Americans, that’s not a bad thing. I suspect he won’t, but Donald Trump is officially a socialist.