Republicans are expected to vote this week on a farm bill that once again takes aim at the infamous “welfare queen.” The problem is that she does not exist.
Though no one has used the term outright in the current debate, this elusive scammer has been at the core of entitlement reform since Ronald Reagan conjured her up in 1976.
Conservatives refuse to give up their quest to bring down this lazy, scheming, African-American woman who uses her food stamps and other government aid to support a lavish lifestyle with countless jobless men who drift in and out of her bed.
They have heard about the piles of research and other documentation that prove she is - and always has been - nothing more than a myth. But the only proof they need of her existence is what they feel in their gut.
Chances are they’ve never crossed paths with her in a grocery store, because they don’t shop in the same neighborhoods. But they’ve heard of someone who knows someone who has seen her in the checkout line paying for filet mignon and lobster with her government-issued debit card.
Now, with the backing of Donald Trump, House Republicans are setting out to put an end to this conniving user once and for all. In order to continue receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, she would have to get off her shiftless butt and get a job.
Never mind that work requirements for the long-term SNAP recipients who do not have children have been in place since 1996.
The new farm bill imposing stricter work requirements on millions of low-income people receiving food stamps is the latest attempt by Republicans to cleanse the assistance rolls by forcing out people they believe are taking advantage of the system.
In order to receive about $150 to $185 a month in benefits, SNAP participants between the ages of 18 and 59 would have to prove they are working least 20 hours a week or participating in an equivalent job training program. Those who are disabled or raising a child younger than 6 would be exempt.
What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Nothing, if you assume that the only people who don’t have jobs are the ones who don’t want them.
According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the proposed work requirements ignore important barriers to employment, such as very limited skills, mental health issues like depression, as well as housing, transportation, child care and other medical and social barriers.
While a portion of the financial savings would go back to the states to help pay for the job training programs, the new rules would force states to develop large new bureaucracies that do little to increase employment.
The bottom line is that there’s no evidence such sweeping work requirements would be effective. They likely would serve only to increase hunger and poverty for some 1 million households - with more than 2 million people in them - that would be kicked off the rolls, the center found.
That’s why Republican lawmakers have to rely on their gut.
Federally subsidized food programs have long held the stigma of being nothing more than overfunded handouts to people who are unwilling to take responsibility for themselves or their children.
Many Americans resent the notion that their hard-earned tax dollars might be subsidizing people they think are unworthy. These folks will never go out and get a job when they can live off taxpayers for free.
Who are these people, anyway?
Reagan, the Republicans’ king of welfare reform, introduced us to the “welfare queen” during a campaign rally in 1976.
“In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record,” he said. “She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”
That never happened. But her legend lives on.
The truth is that the average food stamp recipient isn’t an urban black woman at all. She is a white woman.
And the people who benefit most from food stamps paid for with our hard-earned tax dollars aren’t primarily black kids living in fatherless homes. They are little white kids who would starve to death if the government didn’t step in to help them.
Of the 44 million SNAP recipients, 36 percent are white, 25 percent are African-American, 17 percent are Hispanic, 3 percent are Asian and 1 percent are Native American, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Contrary to what some might think, people living in this country illegally are not eligible.
The bottom line is that the real beneficiaries of SNAP, independent of race, are children. Forty-four percent of participants are younger than 18, an additional 12 percent are age 60 or older and 9 percent are disabled adults, according to federal government statistics.
And the assumption that people who receive food assistance don’t work? It’s a lie.
Nearly one-third of all SNAP households - and nearly half of those with children - report an income. Many families rely on SNAP only when they are between jobs or because they are among millions of American’s working poor. The problem is that most of the jobs they can get are low-paying and often are temporary.
So the next time you hear someone complaining about a customer holding out the checkout line because they are using their SNAP card, tell them that it could be a friend or a relative who is simply trying to make ends meet. And that elusive “welfare queen”? She’s just a figment of those Republicans’ uninformed imaginations.