On December 4, the Trump administration announced cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that will cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose access to needed food assistance benefits. Under the new rules, eligibility for SNAP benefits for non-disabled people without children will require working at least 20 hours a week and dramatically tighten the exceptions that states with high unemployment have instituted.
Over 700,000 people are expected to be affected by these cuts. With higher unemployment rates for Black, Latino, Native, and others facing racist oppression, these communities will be disproportionately impacted. The changes will go into effect on April 1, 2020. In addition to these formalized work requirements, the Trump administration has proposed other rule changes that could eliminate or reduce SNAP benefits for tens of millions more. In truth, many SNAP recipients still face food insecurity as the benefits only cover the bare minimum and don’t include necessities such as toiletries and cleaning supplies. These cuts present a clear attack on people living in poverty and need to be confronted as such.
In a 2018 op-ed piece when these cuts were first proposed, multi-millionaire and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue cited the welfare cuts under Bill Clinton as a precursor to these changes, demonstrating the unity of both capitalist parties when it comes to punishing people facing poverty. Perdue added, “At USDA, our informal motto is ‘Do Right and Feed Everyone.’ With these proposed improvements, we will ‘do right’ by the taxpayers and restore the dignity of work to the able-bodied who receive SNAP benefits.”
But this is nothing other than a cynical excuse to deepen the extreme inequality in society. In the United States, the top 400 families have more wealth than the bottom 60 percent of households and pay a lower effective tax rate. What’s more, the top 0.1 percent own as much as the bottom 80 percent. A recent study shows that almost half of U.S. workers hold low-wage jobs. The median income of these low-wage jobs is $18,000; for a family of three, that income-level is below the poverty line as defined by the federal government.
Austerity measures and the ruling class politicians that promote them serve to privatize as many public goods as possible, cutting assistance to the masses while transferring greater and greater wealth to the already obscenely rich. The growing inequalities in the United States lay bare the false narrative that this country is the land of opportunity. We have the opportunity to go without food, to go without housing, to go without medicine, and if we raise our voices in protest, the opportunity to go to prison.
Workers around the world set the example: rise up against austerity!
This latest attack represents another so-called austerity measure that has its equivalents in neoliberal policy changes throughout the world. In October, an uprising began in Lebanon over proposed taxes on a number of consumer goods and online phone calls. Since 2018 Haiti has seen demonstrators in the streets demanding the resignation of their U.S.-backed president; the impetus for this uprising was corruption and a proposed hike in gas prices. The national strikes in Colombia is a powerful form of resistance to repressive, neoliberal policies pushed by their rightwing president.
In addition to brutal massacres by the state and its allies that have shredded the country’s historic peace accord, the Colombian government also attempted to privatize public institutions, increase taxes, and cut benefits. Austerity measures in Ecuador pushed by the IMF and the right wing government of President Lenin Moreno led to a massive uprising that forced the national government to flee the capital city of Quito. The people of Chile have rejected the neoliberal policies of the country’s ruling class and are demanding not just his resignation, but a new constitution. Anti-worker French president Emmanuel Macron proposed pension reforms that sparked strikes from workers who were joined by the Yellow Vest movement.
Typically no one policy change is enough to spark an uprising. Instead the final spark is merely the latest in a long line of indignities. The people of the United States can follow the lead of people all around the world taking to the streets and standing up for the right to live in dignity.