Yoho’s War on the Poor

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) keeps millions of people from falling into poverty each year. The overwhelming majority of benefits (83%) go to families that include children, seniors, or disabled people. Despite what one might hear if they tune into certain cable news networks, SNAP has an extremely low fraud rate. Many people use SNAP temporarily to help with setbacks like being laid off or encountering a health issue. The number of recipients has decreased by over six million since its December 2012 peak.  

All of this makes us wonder why Congressman Ted Yoho and his Republican colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee are so eager to slash the program.  SNAP funding is part of the Farm Bill, which comes up for renewal every few years. Back in 2013, Yoho voted to cut SNAP by $40 billion. Luckily the measure failed, and he had to settle for a $8 billion decrease.  In that same bill, though, subsidies to the Fanjul brothers–billionaire south Florida sugar producers whose American Crystal Sugar had made political contributions to Yoho–were untouched. Fifty of the Forbes 400 have received subsidies through the Farm Bill over the past twenty years.

But they tell us SNAP needs to be cut?

Last year, Yoho and several members of the House Agriculture Committee met in Gainesville to solicit input from various stakeholders including local farmers, researchers and nutrition experts to inform their drafting of the 2018 Farm Bill. There was no outcry demanding that SNAP should be cut.  

In April, without input or votes from their Democratic counterparts, Yoho and the House Agriculture Committee took the first step and passed out of committee a Farm Bill that contains stricter work requirements that will cut the program by $20 billion dollars.

Republicans seem to be cutting SNAP merely because it is a government program that ends up increasing the dreaded national debt, a rationale that rings hollow coming from a political party that just voted for a huge tax cut bill that will end up increasing the dreaded national debt–except tax cut rewards the wealthy.

But this is nothing new for Yoho. Last year, for example, he voted for the Obamacare replacement bill known as the America Health Care Act.  Afterwards, he told a local reporter, “We’re not trying to kick anyone off healthcare.” This was clearly untrue: the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had calculated that twenty million less people would have health insurance if the bill had passed. Most of those, of course, would have been the poor and sick. But who would have benefitted? You guessed it, the wealthy, who would have received close to $500 billion in tax cuts.

Yoho’s voting habits have made it clear that he believes that government should not financially assist the less fortunate. This implies one of three things: First, he thinks that the free market will figure everything out if government would get out of the way. A cursory review of American history dispels this persistent myth. Capitalism without government regulation is not the cure for inequality. Unbridled capitalism increases inequality.

Second, he thinks charities can take care of the poor.  While charities are important, during economic downturns charities become least effective when they are most needed because people curtail donations. Also, during the Great Depression, charities acknowledged their limitations and appealed to government to intercede and help the needy. We seem to have forgotten this.

The final implication of Yoho’s voting record is that he thinks the less fortunate are not trying. You hear this all the time from conservatives: The poor have been made lazy and unambitious due to government handouts. Taking those handouts away will force them back into the labor force. If you think we are harshly characterizing Yoho’s mindset, consider his description of the SNAP component of the Farm Bill when he announced his vote on April 18: “The Agriculture and Nutrition Act provides…investments in opportunities for SNAP recipients who want to achieve economic independence.”

Ted Yoho received food stamps as a young newlywed. Why exactly does he think that his circumstances were so much different from millions of people who receive SNAP today?

At this point, we at Indivisible Gainesville know that calls to Yoho imploring him to vote against the 2018 Farm Bill will have no effect. Let us instead focus our attention on November, where we will make our voices heard, loud and clear.

 

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