Wednesday, May 2, 2018

GOP Farm Bill would put a bigger hurt on food stamp recipients in GOP-voting areas

Yesterday, several legislative Democrats held a press conference to discuss findings that showed tens of thousands of Wisconsinites would lose their food stamp (or SNAP) benefits under the Farm Bill being considered by Congress.

The media event was prompted by an analysis from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau that discussed the changes to SNAP Policy in the Farm Bill.
Federal law permits individuals to qualify for SNAP benefits in one of two ways. First, they may qualify if they reside in "assistance groups" (AGs, broadly households) that meet income and resource limits specified in federal law. Second, they may qualify for SNAP benefits automatically if they have been determined to be eligible for other public assistance programs, a method commonly referred to as "categorical eligibility."

Federal Income and Asset Standards. States may choose to adopt federally-specified income and asset limits. In states that choose this option, a household may qualify for benefits if it has net income less than 100% of the federal poverty level (FPL) and gross income below 130% of the FPL. Net income is calculated by applying several federally-allowable deductions….

Wisconsin's FoodShare program provides broad-based categorical eligibility. An AG with gross income up to 200% of the FPL may qualify for FoodShare if the AG receives a referral to Job Center of Wisconsin employment services, a Department of Workforce Development job search program partially funded by TANF. Currently, AGs that meet this broad-based categorical eligibility standard are not required to meet an asset test. (2017 Wisconsin Act 59 contained a provision to establish a $25,000 asset limit for Foodshare AGs that do not include an elderly, blind, or disabled member, a change that is awaiting federal approval.)
Now here’s the backdoor way that Wisconsinites would see their FoodShare benefits cut, I’ll bold the key words/provisions.
Section 4006 of H.R.2 would specify that states may provide categorical eligibility for SNAP benefits to households in which each member receives cash assistance or ongoing and substantial services under TANF, with an income eligibility limit of not more than 130% of the FPL. If each member of the household is elderly or disabled and receives cash assistance or ongoing and substantial services under TANF, the gross income limit could not exceed 200% of the FPL. This provision would prevent states, including Wisconsin, from offering broad-based categorical eligibility to families that do not receive cash assistance or ongoing TANF-funded services.
Small government conservatism at its finest- telling states they can’t use their own money for benefits as they see fit.

Families making 130%-200% of the federal poverty line would be the ones cut off in this scenario. To illustrate, that would include a single parent with 2 children working full time and making between $12.80 and $19.60 an hour (aka, entry-level job at Foxconn), or a married couple with 2 kids with each partner making between $7.75 and $11.50 an hour. This means that many working poor Wisconsinites with children will lose their benefits, and have to figure out a way to get by with less, when they didn't have that much to begin with.

The LFB analysis featured a breakdown of the number of individuals and children in each county between 130% FPL and 200% FPL that stand to lose their benefits under this bill, and the amount of money they’d lose. And some countiees would see quite a few of their SNAP recipients get cut off.

Counties with largest proportion of children losing SNAP benefits
Pepin 13.36%
Green 12.48%
Price 12.32%
Dane 12.24%
Polk 12.17%
Pierce 11.88%
Waukesha 11.66%
Ozaukee 11.35%
La Crosse 11.27%
Washington 11.11%

It’s a combination of 4 small, rural counties, 3 counties with UW System schools making up a big part of their work force (I would bet this reflects a lot of kids of grad students and UW staff, as you’ll see below), and all 3 of the GOP-voting WOW Counties around Milwaukee.

If you expand it out to the general population beyond those 23,000+ children, the LFB says that 75,720 Wisconsinites in all would lose food stamp benefits - or 1 out of 9 recipients (there’s a way to “cut the benefit rolls”!). But some counties will have a larger portion of their food stamp recipients lose out under this Farm bill, which indicates a disproportionate amount of working poor adults are victimized in these places.

Counties with largest proportion of recipients losing SNAP benefits
Green 17.59%
Price 16.63%
Pepin 16.61%
Lafayette 16.35%
Ozaukee 16.23%
Waukesha 15.97%
Washington 15.70%
Kewaunee 15.59%
Columbia 15.57%
Door 15.43%

Note that the 3 counties with major UW campuses that had lots of children being cut off aren’t on this list. That adds to my theory that it’s related to students and UW staff.

And that’s right WOW Counties, you have a whole lot of people that are already at the edge, no matter how you try to portray yourself otherwise (hey, someone has to work at all those strip mall stores). Cutting those people and families off will make for a lot of desperation in your backyard. In other words, YOUR COMMUNITIES ARE NOT IMMUNE FROM POVERTY AND STRUGGLING PEOPLE. So maybe you could be a little more compassionate, unless you want to feel the economic and social blowback.

I also note the disproportional amount of rural areas that are in swing seats for the State Legislature. Door and Kewaunee Counties are a large amount of Senate District 1, whose vacancy is being filled in 6 weeks, and Columbia County makes up much of Assembly District 42, which is also up for grabs on June 12. And Green and Lafayette Counties take up a piece of Howard Marklein’s Senate District 17, and he is likely the most vulnerable GOP incumbent Senator this November.

By comparison, look at the counties that would have the lowest percentage of SNAP recipients affected by these proposed changes.

Counties with smallest proportion of children losing SNAP benefits
Iron 3.49%
Menominee 3.69%
Vilas 4.88%
Langlade 4.90%
Green Lake 4.90%

Counties with smallest proportion of recipients losing SNAP benefits
Menominee 4.60%
Milwaukee 8.51%
Racine 9.25%
Oconto 9.40%
Bayfield 9.54%

Those are some very different people than AM radio portrays as “food stamp recipients” (read: poor minorities in inner cities). A whole lot of places in the Northwoods, and the larger counties of Milwaukee and Racine when adults are added to the mix. This also indicates that more of the SNAP recipients in these counties are below that 130% of poverty level, which makes sense because it includes some of the poorest areas of the state.

Sure, Milwaukee County still has the most people affected of any county in the state (over 20,600 people and more than 7,000 children), but that’s related to the county’s larger population. So if the mentality of using the Farm bill to cut SNAP benefits to “stick it to the big cities”, it’s not going to work out that way in Wisconsin.

In fact, Republicans would be more likely to cut the throats of their own constituents, and combine it with the fact that the working poor are also more likely to use the ACA exchanges for health insurance, you can see where things can spiral downward quickly. And many (white) people in these (rural and suburban) communities will go over the edge, increasing poverty levels and the need for services in areas that have generally had low levels of poverty, or have small tax bases to pay for the services that are needed..

And doubly bizarre is cutting off low-income workers from benefits was something the Walker Administration said they wanted to avoid with some of their “reforms” in the last budget, as “cliffs” that cut people off of benefits at certain low-income levels were made more gradual, to encourage work (allegedly). And this reform would do the opposite- discourage people from earning past 130% of poverty, because they will choose to have their families be fed instead of taking on extra work hours to have a chance of affording (now unsubsidized) food. So why was it nothing but Democrats that were holding the press event yesterday? Shouldn’t Scott Walker and the rest of WisGOP have been saying “Hey Congress, you’re doing it wrong!"

Or maybe GOPs aren't talking about this because they really don't care about helping low-income people get by, and they really don't want people to realize that they've left no money in the state budget to make up the difference for the 75,000 people and 23,000 children that would be left behind. Also notice that GOP candidates aren't calling for a raise in Wisconsin's poverty-inducing $7.25 an hour minimum wage either, despite the fact that under this law, a 2-worker, 2-parent family trying to survive on low wages would be cut off from extra assistance to help feed their kids. So the Walker/WisGOP talk about "rewarding work" rings hollow.

Keep your eye on this one, because given the mess that GOPs have made of the federal budget in DC, Paul Ryan's "Christian" GOP followers will look to reduce that deficit on the back of the poor and working people. And it'll be left up to states like Wisconsin that have also have their treasuries looted by Republicans to make up the difference, or leave those people and their communities to suffer and cope.


  1. It takes a special sort of twisted mind to live in the wealthiest nation on the planet and think our financial issues should be resolved by taking a couple hundred dollars worth of food away from working families each month.

    In a twenty trillion dollar economy, SNAP represents a 70 billion dollar expense - money which is getting put right back into the economy for what it's worth. It's not like food stamp recipients take the money and burn it. They're buying food - participating in the US economy.

    Better yet - can we maybe pay attention to the fact that after the longest period of uninterrupted prosperity in living memory, 44 million Americans, by government definition, don't have enough money to properly feed themselves.

    And those are just the ones who are willing to seek help. There's a big population of people out there who will go hungry every night rather than apply for SNAP. I speak from experience on that point.

    The upper tier of our socio-economic strata have simply taken too much. The cows are in the seed corn, and the long term impact will be to erode the financial base of the society which made them rich.

    The bottom half of the nation is in sore need of a serious raise, and the consequence of ignoring this will be continued increasing social unrest.

    Sooner or later, the small towners, rurals and urbans will figure out their problems are common and start to see through the rhetoric which presently divides them.

    Two quote from a Mel Brooks movie coming to mind -

    Leader of Senate: All fellow members of the Roman senate hear me. Shall we continue to build palace after palace for the rich? Or shall we aspire to a more noble purpose and build decent housing for the poor? How does the senate vote?

    Entire Senate: FUCK THE POOR!

    And the corollary -


    1. Good statements. I've waited a while to see when a lot of low-income white people in this state realize who's really screwing them over and causing their communities to break down. And it isn't minorities in big cities or academics at the UW.

      But I'm afraid it's going to take another bad recession for them to get it (and I'm afraid some will be so weak-minded they will never get it). A lot of people need to have it come to their doorstep to learn the lesson.

  2. I'll add this analysis from the Wisconsin Budget Project on the proposed SNAP cuts.

    They also note that these changes would disincentivize work because of the strict cutoffs, and there is almost nothing for job training and other workforce development to make up the difference.

  3. That's a good piece from the Budget Project. Well phrased and convincing.

    I'll admit my earlier rant engages in a bit of a reach, but I have hopes that better communications and better leadership can eventually bridge the urban/rural divide. We started seeing shreds of this with the UW prof who toured the state talking with small town and rural people.

    I had hopes that Kathleen Vinehout might be able to lead this charge, but the Dems just look like a mess right now. The only rationale that makes sense to me is that they're keeping the big Republican attack money sidelined as long as possible. They know as soon as the huge field resolves into a couple front runners, those candidates are going to get pummeled.

    I think bridging that urban/rural breach is one thing the large Dem field could do. Just get the whole field out there and listening to people. Talk with everyday people all over the state. With as many candidates as they have, they could do a good job of this. At the end, nobody's going to care which Dem they spoke with as long as the group isn't too fractious about selecting the nominee. What's going to matter is a Democrat came out and really listened to and tried to understand them and those ideas made it into the public statements.

    At a minimum, it would be a way to advance Dems statewide and still keep their heads down as long as possible.