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Steven Roberts: Trump playing Grinch and Scrooge

By Steven V. Roberts

President Trump likes to say he’s restored the phrase “Merry Christmas” to the White House after it was banished by his predecessor. That’s always been a typical Trump fabrication: Barack Obama said “Merry Christmas” many times, and he actually meant it.

Trump, on the other hand, just told almost 700,000 recipients of food stamps that they will lose their benefits next April. There’s a Christmas present for you! Wait, there’s more! The Trump administration has proposed two other rules changes for the food-stamp program, now officially known as SNAP, that could toss several million more families off the rolls next year. As Rep. Marcia Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who heads the subcommittee that handles food stamps, put it: “Instead of declaring war on poverty, this president has declared war on our most vulnerable citizens.”

Trump loves to be the star of his own movie, and now he’s the Grinch and Mr. Scrooge all in one. Does that make him the Grooge? Or Mr. Scrinch?

Trump’s actions are not only profoundly immoral; they are self-defeating. Nutrition programs like food stamps pay for themselves by keeping people, especially children, healthy and productive. Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told a congressional hearing recently: “We particularly worry about food-insecure households with kids and adolescents. Food-insecure children have higher rates of fair and poor health, have higher rates of hospitalization, increased risks of asthma, and delays in cognitive developments.”

Not only that, but food stamps are a built-in countercyclical program that protects the economy against downturns. If growth lags and folks lose jobs, the benefits they receive put money into their pockets — and the larger marketplace — without any special congressional action.

That’s why 140,000 comments were filed in reaction to the proposed new rules, and “they were overwhelmingly negative,” reports The New York Times.

The first rule that will go into effect concerns able-bodied single persons, who are generally entitled to only three months of benefits over a 36-month period if they are not working or participating in a training program. But 36 states, both red and blue, have sought waivers from those stringent limits for areas of high unemployment.

What Trump has done is make those waivers much harder to obtain.

The other two rules changes, which have not yet been officially enacted, would have the same basic purpose: tighten eligibility standards to make food stamps harder to obtain. The Urban Institute estimates that if all three proposals are put into effect, nearly 4 million Americans would lose benefits, and almost 1 million schoolchildren would lose access to free or reduced-price meals.

One of the president’s rationales is to save taxpayer money — about $5.5 billion over five years from the first rule alone. But since this president pushed through an irresponsible tax cut, which is fueling an annual budget deficit of $1.1 trillion, it’s impossible to take his claims of fiscal responsibility seriously.

His aides also insist the rule will encourage folks to go to work instead of receiving federal aid — a noble goal, to be sure. But food-stamp benefits average about $1.40 per person per meal. Now really, no one — and I mean no one — would prefer that stipend to a paying job.

Of course, the real reason for the crackdown is election-year politics. This is Reaganism Redux, a remake of the Gipper’s highly cynical — and highly successful — approach that declared war on mythical “welfare queens” who supposedly bought steak and beer with food stamps.

This is all part of Trump’s central campaign theme: us against them, the good people versus the bad people, the hardworking taxpayers against the lazy malingers. And if those layabouts happen to be immigrants or non-whites? So much the better.

So Merry Christmas to the Grooge. Or Mr. Scrinch. His stocking should be stuffed with all that dirty-burning coal he loves so much.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University.

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