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Opinion The Trump administration plays the perfect Grinch with its new food stamp rule

Sandy Horrocks cuts cartons of eggs in half on Oct. 4, 2018, at the Nelsonville Food Cupboard in Nelsonville, Ohio. (Andrew Spear for The Washington Post)

Marcia L. Fudge, a Democrat, represents Ohio’s 11th Congressional District in the House.

There is a horrible irony in taking food from the tables of hungry Americans during the holidays, but that’s the latest act of cartoonish villainy by the Trump administration.

It could be, perhaps, that their shoes were too tight or that their heads weren’t screwed on just right, but this week, the Agriculture Department played the part of the Grinch, finalizing a rule to cut billions of dollars from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The rule will remove nearly 700,000 from the program and jeopardize the food security of hundreds of thousands more, representing a callous escalation of the Trump administration’s war on people in need.

In my work representing Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, where too many hard-working people need a little extra help putting food on the table, I have learned some things to be true about hunger and anti-hunger programs such as SNAP.

The truth is SNAP works. It lifts millions out of poverty in this country and helps millions more make ends meet. The White House, the USDA and congressional Republicans would have us believe this rule simply helps poor people escape the cycle of poverty. SNAP already does that.

The truth is SNAP is temporary. While conservatives continue to blow the abhorrent Reagan-era dog whistle of “the welfare queen,” the majority of SNAP recipients draw benefits for less than a year.

The truth is the vast majority folks on SNAP who can work do work. Able-bodied adults who are capable of working but don’t can only draw SNAP benefits for three months within any three-year period.

The truth is SNAP knows no racial, political or geographic classification. Hungry people are white, black and brown; Republicans and Democrats; urban and rural. That’s why there is overwhelming opposition in Congress and across the country to the USDA’s rule. Last year, 369 members of the House — a historic number of Republicans and Democrats — voted against these cruel policies in the 2018 Farm Bill. In the months and weeks since the rule was initially proposed, tens of thousands of families and anti-hunger advocates have submitted public comments to the USDA, warning the department that this rule and others it intends to issue would cut lifesaving nutrition assistance at a time when thousands need it most.

The truth is both red and blue states want the flexibility this rule will eliminate. The rule will dramatically reduce the flexibility of states to decide how best to serve the needs of their own citizens. That flexibility has been requested and granted by both Republicans and Democrats alike. For all their talk about states’ rights, conservatives in Congress and the administration are all too happy to curtail those rights in the name of political messaging.

The truth is the USDA has no idea if this rule will even accomplish what it sets out to do. While the USDA has the authority to research whether those affected by this rule are disabled or elderly or veterans or any number of other classifications that may exacerbate their need, the department has chosen not to. If it had, the USDA would discover many SNAP recipients are either attempting to find work or face hardships that prevent them from doing so. Instead, it demonized them as lazy and undeserving.

The truth is the USDA is an agriculture and food agency, not a workforce agency. While Republicans talk a great deal about putting people back to work, the USDA lacks the expertise and the resources to adequately administer the workforce education and training programs Republicans claim to want. Instead, the rule focuses only on the conservative deliverable of cutting people off SNAP and doesn’t make any good-faith effort to address the issue of putting people back to work.

The truth is this rule is only a single campaign in the White House’s larger war on people in need. Over the past year, the Trump administration has advanced no fewer than 14 rules attacking access for underserved populations to everything from housing to health care to food.

I’d like to think, like the Grinch, this administration will be moved during this holiday season to see the good in helping the poorest and most vulnerable among us. The truth, I fear, is much worse. The president has cynically weaponized the USDA as a blunt political instrument, flying in the face of the department’s stated mission to “do right and feed everyone.” It is a new low in the administration’s war on people in need.

Read more:

Helaine Olen: Billionaires and millionaires against food stamps

Paul Waldman: Trump’s new food stamp proposal weaponizes government against poor people

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Robert E. Rector and Robert Gebelhoff: Are the Trump administration’s proposed food stamp cuts justified?

Ron Haskins: Trump’s work requirements have been tested before. They succeeded.

Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan: The crux of Republican policy: Make public services harder to use