Representative Kristi Noem demonstrated her continuing contempt for the poor by voting for the House GOP's nowheresville food stamp bill yesterday. South Dakota's lone Congresswoman defends her vote with the usual false exaggerations of waste and fraud in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:
This bill puts integrity back into the food stamp program to ensure that those who need assistance the most receive it,” Noem said in a written statement following the vote. “These reforms return work incentives to the program while curbing fraud, waste and abuse and refocusing benefits on families most in need. We need to ensure we have good policies in place that people can get behind and support, and I believe this bill does that. I’m pleased that the farm bill is now one step closer to completion” ["Noem, House Cut Food Stamp Funds," AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.09.20].
The legislation Noem and the Republican Party support don't directly attack waste, fraud, and abuse; they just cut funding and tighten benefits. Payment error has been declining over the past decade. SNAP is a model of efficiency for public assistance programs.
Rep. Noem says this bill is great because it ends waivers that allow able-bodied adults to receive SNAP benefits indefinitely. The able-bodied Noem and her able-bodied family have received farm subsidies indefinitely, so far totaling millions of dollars. If I'm being generous, I conclude that the Noem-Arnold family's acceptance of farm subsidies proves that sometimes even able-bodied people experience adverse conditions that justify giving them financial assistance.
As I noted Tuesday, the waivers Noem finds so nefarious are really flexibility granted to state governors to waive work requirements in places with really tough job markets. Here's a more thorough explanation:
In 1996, two conservative House Republicans offered an amendment to the welfare bill to limit food stamps to adults aged 18-50 who aren't raising minor children to three months while unemployed out of every three years. If such individuals were not employed at least 20 hours a week or participating in a workfare or job training program at least 20 hours a week, their benefits would end after three months. The amendment passed and became law.
Most states and local workforce boards don't run large-scale workfare or training programs for these individuals, and for most of these people, no places are made available in such programs. If they can't find a job, their food stamps are cut off.
The measure's sponsors defended the provision in 1996 against charges that it was draconian, partly by stressing that it explicitly authorized governors to seek temporary waivers from the three-month cut-off for areas that had high unemployment or otherwise lacked sufficient jobs. Since 1996, governors of both parties have requested and received such waivers, especially during the recent years of high unemployment [Bob Grenstein, "Eric Cantor Is Misrepresenting the House SNAP Cuts," Huffington Post, 2013.09.16].
Taking more than three months to find a job is often a product of the economy, not laziness. SNAP recognizes that fact and gives governors the ability to waive that three-month cut-off when local economic conditions warrant. Rep. Noem prefers to take away that state-level authority just for an ideological buzz. She shouts You lazy bastards! Get to work! even as she votes for a bill that does nothing to fund the job training programs that it requires recipients to join and that only a few states make available.
Meanwhile, Kristi Noem's able-bodied husband Bryon continues to make a living selling federally subsidized crop insurance instead of getting a real job that doesn't rely on government checks.... at least that's what a congresswoman who means the things Rep. Noem says about food stamps would say to a man like Bryon.
Folks on food stamps, you are our neighbors, our fellow citizens. You deserve our help, just as I hope you'd help others if the tables were turned. That help shouldn't be piled with a bunch of conditions... but I'd like to ask you to do this one thing in return. If you've been able to keep from yourself or your kids from going hungry thanks to food stamps, I ask you to come vote next year and vote for whoever runs against Kristi Noem. There are currently over 54,000 of you old enough to vote; bring a friend to vote, and that's more than enough people to kick Noem's selfish politics out of office.
Related Reading: Mr. Larson agrees that Rep. Noem is waging war on the poor. Mr. Powers reprints Noem's press release. Powers also says work requirements and drug tests should be necessary for recipients of government assistance, but fails to connect those dots to the Noem family.
Update 10:31 CDT: Jim Wallis makes a similar point about the hypocrisy of rich Congresspeople taking farm subsidies while un-Christianly (un-Jewishly, immorally) picking on the poor. MSNBC notes that Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey voted to cut food stamps after whining about only making $172K in Congress.