Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Furor over food stamps

Compassion | New work requirement proposed to help recipients overcome poverty
by Rob Holmes
Posted 4/18/18, 03:48 pm

Critics of President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal to change and reduce expenses in the national food stamps program now fear a proposal from House Republicans to expand work requirements for all recipients.

The backlash centers on a new stipulation requiring the same number of work hours for those with dependents as those without, though people caring for children younger than 6 would be exempt. The new work requirements would start in 2021 and increase from 20 hours per week to 25 hours in 2026.

Requirements detailed in the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 would also increase the upper working age cutoff from 49 to 59 in 2021.

“We believe breaking this poverty cycle is very important,” said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, which will meet to vote on the bill next week. 

On paper, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as SNAP or food stamps, has work requirements for able-bodied adults who don’t have dependents. They must either attend job training or work an average of 80 hours per month or lose benefits after three months. But broad exceptions for local economic conditions, plus inconsistent implementation of the rules, mean only 30 percent of SNAP recipients who should be working are working, according to the House Agriculture Committee. Exceptions also apply for the disabled, seniors, and pregnant women. 

Democrats argue the expanded work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents younger than 6 would be burdensome, especially for parents, and people would simply abandon the program and its average of $450 a month in benefits. The ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, condemned the bill, saying it was an attempt “to change SNAP from a feeding program to a work program.” 

But the Republican recommendations—under debate as part of a larger farm bill—take aim at the rising national deficit stemming from a plethora of benefits programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. More than 40 million Americans receive SNAP benefits. And there are an estimated 6.3 million unfilled jobs in our economy, said Conaway, speaking in an Agri-Pulse Open Mic interview this week. 

Helping people move from jobless to employed is a critical part of reducing dependence: More than 80 percent of those who get off welfare through employment do not return for at least two years, according to the South Carolina Department of Social Services. 

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he likes the GOP proposal because it will “help people on the SNAP program who are able to work find work, and start taking those steps toward making a good living.” He added, “This is going to help get more Americans out of poverty, and it’s going to help more Americans get into the workforce while still maintaining support for those in need.” 

Creative Commons/PINGNews Creative Commons/PINGNews A homeless person near Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Homeless people sue D.C. for seizing their stuff

Two homeless people filed suit against Washington, D.C., saying the city violated their rights by taking and improperly disposing of belongings vital to survival outdoors. Officials cleared several homeless encampments in the city last year, citing health concerns and fire safety.

Plaintiffs Shanel Proctor and Charlaine Braxton evoked the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches and seizures and sought a court order requiring the city to uphold its own protocol for handling seized property: to keep seized belongings in storage for 60 days, preserving ID, bikes, and tents.

“As a result of the District’s practice, plaintiffs are in grave danger of suffering irreparable harm through loss of personal property that is necessary for survival or that cannot be replaced,” according to the lawsuit.

The Los Angeles Times reported an Orange County, Calif., judge issued a restraining order against camp-clearing in February, similar to the one sought by Proctor and Braxton in Washington, to prevent trespassing charges against residents who refuse to leave their camps.

Besides other constitutional rights, the D.C. lawsuit also brings into focus the issue of liberty: People do not necessarily want to follow government plans to house them. “We have the resources to provide shelter to the individuals in the encampments,” said Sean Barry, communications director for the city’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. “The lynchpin of the [city’s] protocol is inviting individuals into safer shelter and ultimately housing.”

Some cities have employed a different strategy of keeping people where they are, insisting that camps be made semi-permanent, as in a 2016 Oakland, Calif., initiative, in which officials added toilets and trash cans and provided some cleaning. —R.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Russell Contreras Associated Press/Photo by Russell Contreras Albuquerque residents protest President Donald Trump’s immigration policies in September 2017.

New Mexico city declares itself ‘immigrant friendly’

Albuquerque, N.M., officials on Monday approved an ordinance that touts the city’s status as “immigrant friendly.”

The measure, passed on a 6-3 vote by the Democratic-controlled city council, prevents federal agents from accessing city-owned or operated property without warrants, and forbids using local tax money to pay for any federal immigration enforcement. Even more stringent is a ban on local police and city employees documenting a person’s immigration status.

Illegal immigrants in New Mexico will be harder to find and deport, say critics of the city’s new measure.

Albuquerque, New Mexico’s largest city, also has the largest Hispanic population proportion of any U.S. city (47 percent) and sits in the Top 10 for states with the most illegal immigrants, making it a special target for the U.S. Department of Justice’s crackdown, begun last year under President Donald Trump.

This month, a federal judge in Los Angeles gutted the president’s executive order, saying it was unconstitutional for the Justice Department to force police departments to comply with federal agents in rounding up illegal immigrants or risk their cities being deprived of congressionally allocated federal funding.

Just last year, then–Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, a Republican, lashed out at U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a letter, saying his city should not be characterized as a sanctuary city because it did not “protect criminals from immigration enforcement.” Berry claimed the city shed sanctuary status the year after his tenure began. 

But the city’s new mayor, Democrat Tim Keller, soon succeeded Berry, taking office in December 2017 after a campaign in which he answered a question about whether Albuquerque should be a sanctuary city, saying, “I support Albuquerque’s immigrant-friendly policy … as a way to differentiate ourselves as an inclusive city with a history of diversity.” He defined that diversity as “immigrants, refugees, and those who identify as LGBTQ” to KOAT-TV.

In contrast to Albuquerque’s new measure, Orange County, Calif., voted in March to join a federal lawsuit against its own state government to allow its law enforcement officers to assist federal immigration agents and exempt itself from following the state’s sanctuary policies. —R.H.

New York City’s homeless Girl Scouts

Homeless girls living in shelters in Queens, N.Y., now have their own Girl Scout troop. Troop 6000 sells cookies like all the rest but meets weekly in shelters. The idea of reaching 500 girls and women without homes sprang from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s Department of Homeless Services in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Greater New York, led by its CEO, Meredith Maskara. She said in an interview with ABC News that the troop offers girls the opportunity to “belong to something” and “have a sisterhood” with other Girl Scouts.” 

The Girl Scouts’ gift of camaraderie to homeless young girls is laudable, though its reputation is stained by its support of aberrant sexuality, endangering all girls. In 2015, the Girl Scouts began to allow transgender children who identify as girls on a case-by-case basis, and the organization also allows homosexual troop leaders. —R.H.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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