Making heirloom maize tortillas by hand in Louisville: justice and autonomy not charity! (Sustainable Ag of Louisville and La Casita partner in a corn festival each year, from crops produced by a volunteer collective.)
The thinking of House Ag Chair Conaway (Texas Republican) regarding SNAP benefit (food stamp) program is revealing as part of the overall strategy of deconstructing the safety net that SNAP benefits provide to those impoverished by our neo-liberal economy. Like Trump who claims to be advocating for low-income folk, (but actually succeeded in dramatically lowering the taxes of the super rich and the corporations they run and hold shares in) Chair Conaway says he wants to keep food prices low so that low-income folk can buy enough. The long living “Cheap food” policy, however, has historically meant low prices to farmers- often below the cost of production!- while maintaining profits for the corporate input vendors, food processors, distributors and mega retailers. At the same time, Conaway and his Trumpian cohort are pushing to require people receiving SNAP benefits to work 20 hours a week. Onerous work requirements would not only impose a burden on people already heavily burdened, but it is also another layer of red tape and bureaucracy that Republicans claim they want to eliminate. Today’s right-wing Republicans notoriously want to deconstruct government safety nets, so that the “faith” community, or basically the churches will be challenged and empowered to provide such help in the form of “Christian charity.”
This recalls the stance of the KY Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles (also a Republican with high praise for Senator Mitch McConnell and Kentucky born EPA head Pruitt) who in a recent presentation at the University of Louisville McConnell Center in “Chao” Auditorium refused to acknowledge the need for an increase in the minimum wage in order to address the root causes of hunger in Kentucky. Though he talked for 30 minutes about addressing rampant hunger in Kentucky, Quarles wants to facilitate and expand private (church) charity and not justice or playing-field-leveling policies. He lauds the hand outs churches who glean Kentucky fields could supply to food banks. We all observe that the food bank system represents a system of tax breaks and corporate white washing for corporations like Yum! Brands (headquartered in Louisville) who brag about how many hungry people they have fed through “Dare to Care”, while paying their own fast food restaurant workers pitifully low wages and fighting against worker organizing ie the “fight for $15” and while producing cheap fast food that leads to obesity and ill health for consumers.
It is in this kind of job market and cheap food economy that Conaway and his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives want SNAP recipients to go out and work. So how is a single parent supposed to pay for child care and transport while working minimum or close-to-minimum wage jobs, just in order to qualify to receive SNAP benefits? The overall impact, as with former President Bill Clinton’s Welfare Reform political opportunism bill that also required recipients to work (becoming more Republican than the Republicans), ultimately meant throwing people off the welfare rolls, increasing human suffering and expanding the need for charity across the US and the marginalization of those at the bottom of the economy. Likewise, allowing states to determine the outlines of how SNAP benefits are distributed is an attack on the safety net itself.
With apparently irrational Trumpian trade wars brewing and an agenda of aggressively deconstructing the remaining safety net for the impoverished of our country and even for public school teachers in the heartlands of the US, the Trump wave may soon be fatally threatened by an extremely strong undertow, a social rip-tide both urban and rural that will carry more than House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republican majority in the House out to sea. As they say in many corners of Latin America about the corrupt oligarchy and their politicians: ¡Que se vayan todos! (Away with them all!)