Don’t miss the political point of Trump’s attack on food stamps

The Trump administration is clear that it wants to make it harder for “able-bodied” adults with no kids to get Supplemental Nutrition program benefits (aka “food stamps”).  Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the program haven’t a prayer in Congress, but no matter; much the same purpose can be achieved through changes to how the program is administered, and reducing the ease with which states can get waivers of the work requirements currently in place.

Advocates for recipients have been quick to recount the realities associated with this relatively small fraction of recipients (less than 20% of the total) – the vast majority are only temporary recipients who are either already working or who have a good reason that they’re not; benefits are hardly generous enough to allow recipients to live without working; further restrictions will be counterproductive to the stated aim of reducing “dependency” on government, and so on.  All true, but all unfortunately beside the point in one very important respect.

That respect is ideological politics, and especially the 2020 elections, already looming large.  Republicans are accustomed to invoking classist, racist, and sexist tropes to rile their base, and few stereotypes have worked better over the past 30 years than that of the lazy, high-living welfare recipient.  But the tide is turning decisively against them – and Trump especially – on virtually every major social welfare policy issue.  The president and the party he has remade in his image are desperate, and hope the “welfare” dog whistle can work its political magic one more time.

Social workers least of all should fall for this ideological nonsense.

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