In their quest to gut SNAP (food stamps), Republicans often point to unemployed adults as freeloaders straining the system because they choose not to work.
This strategy is so popular that it even has its own Bible verse. As the Wonkblog points out, on Tuesday Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) was at least the third Republican to use the biblical passage Thessalonians 3-10 as a reason to cut access to food stamps.
During a House hearing on nutrition this week, Arrington asserted that God demands lawmakers practice compassion—with one important caveat.
“He says even when we were with you we give you this rule, ‘If a man will not work he shall not eat.’ And he goes on to say ‘We heard that some of you are idle.’ I think that every American, Republican or Democrat wants to help the needy among us. And I think it’s a reasonable expectation that we have work requirements. I think that gives more credibility, frankly, to SNAP,” Arrington declared.
As with most social policy, applying strict work requirements for social benefits is a lot more complicated than it seems—it’s not just a matter of people opting out of work because they’re getting free stuff.
As Wongblog points out, many unemployed SNAP recipients can’t work, either because there are no jobs, they’re mentally ill, or they have recently aged out of foster care. On top of that, as Josh Protas, the vice president of public policy at MAZON, pointed out, work requirements are often onerous and largely symbolic: most do not help permanently place adults in the workforce.
“No one is suggesting that people who don’t want to work should get benefits,” Protas told Wonkblog. “There are stereotypes about SNAP recipients and myths about the program … that are very harmful to people in need who could take advantage of it.”
Unemployed adults are a small portion of SNAP users. And their benefits are paltry. As USA Today reports, recipients get between $1.40 and $1.90 per meal.
“Please do not do anything that will make hunger worse,” Jim McGovern (D-MA) said at the hearing.