The U.S. government — currently presided over by a person who owns a glittery, 58-story skyscraper with an indoor waterfall on Fifth Avenue, a half-dozen other so-called “towers” here and there around the world, an exclusive private-membership resort by the sea in Florida, and perhaps 16 golf courses — wants to nickel-and-dime poor folks who, if he succeeds at cutting them off the SNAP program, may not know where their next meal is coming from.
It’s the very definition of small.
Such is the state of mind and ethics of our current president and his chosen lieutenants, who seek to change the rules of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps, or, in Vermont, 3SquaresVT) to pare its costs to the federal government. No such concern for the balance sheet was shown when his administration and the Republicans who then led both houses of Congress enacted their famous tax cuts in 2017. They sold that initiative on a fantasy spun of gold, the illusion that slashing taxes would stimulate 3% growth in the economy, generating a corresponding growth in federal revenues.
Did they even believe it? Who knows? Mostly, economists didn’t. And economists were right. We have just closed out the 2019 fiscal year, and the deficit in that year alone exceeded $1 trillion, as reported by CNBC ($1.07 trillion, to be — almost — exact). The last annual deficit that large reportedly occurred in 2012. By FY 2016, which ended shortly before the election that put Trump in office, it was down to $584.6 billion. A year later, along comes the tax cut, and things started going haywire: a $779 billion deficit for FY 2018, and now the $1 trillion-plus deficit for 2019.
Overall, the national debt, which Republicans decry when Democrats are in office and ignore when they’re running the show, now reportedly stands at $22.5 trillion, representing a 13% increase since Trump, the purported financial savant, became president.
Regardless whether one believes the benefits of the Trump/GOP tax reductions accrued mostly to corporations and the rich, or benefited the middle and working classes, too, the segment of society that definitely saw no improvement in their circumstances will now have their physical health and their marginal finances compromised so that Trump et al can pretend to be responsible stewards of our national economy.
That is, if the SNAP reforms go into effect.
What’s to stop them? The answer is, Vermonters, and Americans more broadly, who know right from wrong. There’s an organized resistance to these rescissions, which Vermonters can participate in by going to hungerfreevt.org, clicking on “get involved,” then clicking again on “protect 3squaretsvt.” There’s urgency to doing so, because the comment period on this proposal extends only to Sept. 23.
And it’s very much a local concern. Vermont’s low-income population will get hit harder than the national average if the rule changes go through. Vermont officials say that 14% of 3SquaresVT participants could lose this crucial benefit, while nationally the toll would be 9% (3.6 million needy Americans). Vermonters would lose $7.5 million in food benefits. Compounding the damage is that the way the program alterations are designed, children who would get less food and nutrition at home would also lose access to assisted lunch programs at school.
This assault by the wealthy on the poor can very much be laid at the feet of the Trump administration itself, because the proposal comes straight from the Oval Office. Trump’s executive order (a tactic formerly opposed by Republicans, but now used to enact virtually every Trump whim) follows two earlier efforts to enact SNAP “reforms” through Congressional channels. Now they’re doing an end-run around the peoples’ elected representatives in order to pick on the vulnerable.
And who are these unelected officials? They’re the members of a cabinet described by Business Insider as the wealthiest of any recent administration. That includes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ($32.1 million, after he shed up to $40 million by transferring those assets to his children), whose department drafted the proposed SNAP reductions. Trump’s first cabinet was calculated by that website to be 35 times wealthier than Obama’s first cabinet, and seven times wealthier than George W. Bush’s.
Somehow, Americans thought they would be “draining the swamp” by putting millionaire and billionaire real estate developers, hedge-fund managers, private-equity executives, heirs (Trump) and heiresses (Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, $1.1 billion) in charge of the government. What they’ve done instead is to nearly drain Washington, D.C., of compassion, foresight and simple decency.
Vermonters and other Americans should protest, loud and clear.