Libertarians couldn’t be more different from Republicans. Just look at what Republicans are saying — and not saying — about Donald Trump and food stamps.
The federal food-stamp program (officially called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is operated by the 50 states. Recipients of SNAP benefits receive a deposit on an EBT card each month that can be used only for prepackaged food items. The FNS actually administers a number of food-related programs in addition to food stamps: the National School Lunch Program (NSLP); the School Breakfast Program (SBP); the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP); the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP); and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). SNAP “offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities” and is “the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.” Benefits differ by state. There is no limit as to how long one can receive food stamps as long as there are children in the household, subject to renewal every six months. According to the FNS, during fiscal year 2018, the average monthly benefit was $126.32 per person and $252.55 per household.
In his speech on July 21, 2016, accepting the Republican presidential nomination, candidate Trump said of then Barack Obama, “President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing. Yet what do we have to show for it? Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in third-world condition, and 43 million Americans are on food stamps.”
What Trump didn’t say was that the figure of 43 million was the lowest level of food-stamp participants since October 2010.
Early in July of this year, when Trump spoke at a rally in Great Falls, Montana, for Republican candidates running for office, he claimed, “Since the election, we have lifted 3 million people off of food stamps. By the way, on a humanitarian basis, that’s a great thing. Do you know how much money we saved doing that as a country?”
What Trump didn’t say was that after his election, the number of food-stamp recipients spiked by 3.1 million people.
And just recently, on the South Lawn of the White House, Trump spoke about the U.S. economy after the Bureau of Economic Analysis released the latest GDP figures: “More than 10 million additional Americans had been added to food stamps, past years. But we’ve turned it all around…. More than 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps — something that you haven’t seen in decades. 3.5 million Americans have been lifted off food stamps. That’s because they’re able to go out and get a job.”
What Trump didn’t say was that there were greater declines in the number of Americans receiving food stamps under Obama and George W. Bush.
Trump is not the only one giving his economic policies credit for reducing the food-stamp rolls. Many Republican admirers of the president are glad to do his bidding:
Under Obama, more Americans (and “undocumented” people) than ever before were taking advantage of social welfare in the form of “food stamps,” or what are more officially known today as Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). But things are changing under President Trump, as the number of food-stamp recipients has dipped below 40 million — and for the first time in nearly a decade.
What these latest numbers suggest is that more people are now working under Trump, which means fewer of them are unable to purchase food on their own — a solid sign of a strong economy.
While there’s been an overall downward trend in food-stamp usage since around 2013 before Trump was elected, the latest data shows that an impressive 2.5 million people have cancelled their benefits since he was sworn into office. Much of this is due to Trump’s aggressive efforts to spur the economy and trim welfare waste.
Last month, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service released data showing that many of the SNAP payments made under Obama were illegitimate. The goal now is to increase both transparency and integrity when it comes to doling out food stamps, and the Trump administration is working hard to implement these reforms as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What the author didn’t say was that was that after decreasing every year during most of the Clinton years, more Americans (and “undocumented” people) than ever before were taking advantage of social welfare in the form of food stamps during the Bush years.
What the author didn’t say was that spending on food stamps doubled under George W. Bush as eligibility for food-stamp benefits expanded as a result of the 2002 farm bill. Major changes to the food-stamp program under Bush included:
- restoration of eligibility for food stamps to qualified aliens who have been in the United States at least five years;
- restoration of eligibility for immigrants receiving certain disability payments and for children, regardless of how long they have been in the country;
- adjusting the standard deduction to vary by household size and indexed each year for inflation.
What the author didn’t say was that many people have cancelled their benefits since Trump was sworn into office because Trump’s immigration policies have caused “a decline in the number of eligible immigrants applying for food stamps and a rise in the number of immigrants seeking to cancel their food stamps under the Trump administration.”
The bottom line is that Republicans are very selective when they talk about whether food-stamp use is increasing or decreasing under a particular president. They won’t hesitate to ignore or spin data to their advantage, all the while ignoring the real issue.
Let’s suppose for a moment — in spite of Trump’s disastrous protectionist trade policies — that his economic policies are so good that millions of Americans have gotten jobs or pay increases that are so good that they are no longer eligible to receive food stamps.
The question still remains: What do Republicans think about the food-stamp program?
Trump’s admirer mentioned the president’s efforts to “trim welfare waste,” “increase both transparency and integrity when it comes to doling out food stamps,” and implementing “reforms.” But even when Republicans propose reforms to government programs, they end up increasing spending. Consider the House GOP’s proposed reforms to the food-stamp program in their version of the farm bill. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), their “plan would create an overall increase on food-stamp spending over 10 years of $0.5 billion.”
Unlike libertarians, Republicans never raise the real issue: the legitimacy of the food-stamp program. That is because Republicans — despite their mantra of the Constitution, limited government, free markets, and traditional values — have no philosophical objection to the existence of a federal food-stamp program. They just want to make it more efficient, or at least they claim to.
Libertarians point out that there is nothing in the Constitution that gives the federal government the authority to have a Department of Agriculture, a Food and Nutrition Service, or a food-stamp program.
Libertarians point out that it is not the purpose of government to provide charity, fight poverty, establish a safety net, distribute food, or make sure no one goes to bed hungry.
Libertarians point out that all food assistance should and could be provided privately and voluntarily by the free market.
Libertarians point out that redistributing wealth from one American to another — even if the other American is poor or hungry — is immoral.
Although they often spout libertarian rhetoric, when it comes to the welfare state, Republicans are really not much different from socialists, liberals, or progressives.