GOP socialism bailouts for farmers, hunger for the working poor

0
703

With Robert Mueller’s testimony sucking up all the media oxygen last week, you may have missed a couple of important stories.

The latest tranche of bailout money from the Trump administration to bribe farmers to stick with Trump despite his disastrous trade policies that are financially ruining them is starting to roll out now. Another round of Trump’s farmer bribes set to roll out:

Another $14.5 billion, on top of the $12 billion already paid out, will start getting to farmers by the end of August.

The chief economist at the Department of Agriculture explains that the payouts are necessary because the “trade situation,” as CNN puts it, has “persisted longer than we expected.” As if it happened all by itself and wasn’t a direct result of Trump’s bullying. China has maintained retaliatory tariffs, drying up its lucrative market for soybeans, corn, and wheat. Trump’s ramping up the trade war by adding another $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods has made it worse.

So farmers can start applying for aid next week, based on how many acres of land they have planted in crops that will either rot in the fields or in storage because they can’t sell them. The minimum payment will be $15 an acre and will be paid out in three rounds through this winter, unless somehow the trade war is magically resolved. Farmers earning more than $900,000 a year are ineligible, and payments cap out at $500,000.

As a bribe, it maybe isn’t going to cut it. “No matter what the payments are here, they are not going to make up for the generational damage that’s being done,” says Brian Duncan, vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Once trade routes get changed, they don’t change back—that’s the real rub here.” American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall adds, “While we are grateful for the continuing support for American agriculture from President Trump and Secretary Perdue, America’s farmers ultimately want trade more than aid. It is critically important to restore agricultural markets and mutually beneficial relationships with our trading partners around the world.”

The money comes from an existing $30 billion federal fund, the Commodity Credit Corporation, overseen by the Department of Agriculture. It’s the last payment, says Perdue.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post is accurate to say Trump is the true socialist:

Republicans are right. The scourge of socialism is already upon us. They’re just wrong about which party is to blame.

Technically, “socialism” refers to a system in which the government controls the means of production. In popular parlance, however, “socialist” has instead become a more generic right-wing slur. To the extent the descriptor signals any substance whatsoever, it’s about government handouts, picking winners and losers, redistribution of wealth, or something to that effect.

Yet, if you look at who has successfully implemented policies that fit such pseudo-socialist criteria in recent years, it’s Republicans.

Not that you’d know it from their rhetoric.

“Our freedoms are under attack because the radical left will stop at nothing until socialism has spread from coast to coast,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) proclaimed last month when she kicked off her reelection campaign. “Let me be clear: Socialism has no place in the Hawkeye State or America, and I will stop at nothing to protect our Iowa values.”

Maybe Ernst was being painfully un-self-aware here. Or maybe she thinks her voters are. Either way, for decades, “Iowa values” have explicitly included demands for big fat federal government subsidies for corn ethanol — among other payouts and market-distorting government interventions that Republicans might in other contexts smear as “socialist.”

Agricultural subsidies have been blessed and perpetuated by politicians from both parties. But lately, a Republican president, with the support of Republican lawmakers, is in the midst of a broader “socialist” endeavor to bail out the farm industry.

After President Trump picked trade wars with nearly every major U.S. trading partner — friend and foe alike — U.S. exports of soybeans, pork and other agricultural products dried up. The president subsequently decided to cover up one foolish economic policy with another, and another. He launched not one but two rounds of massive farmer bailouts, together totaling tens of billions of dollars.

Yet Republican politicians have portrayed neither of these taxpayer-funded handouts as “socialist.”

Nor do Republicans cry “socialism” when the treasury secretary lectures U.S. retailers and manufacturers about how and where they should reallocate their supply chains; nor when the president himself lectures firms about what products to stock; nor when the administration tries to get other countries to engage in more centralized economic planning — by, for example, demanding that European political leaders commit private companies to buy more U.S. crops and liquefied natural gas regardless of price, quality or market needs.

You would be hard-pressed to find better recent examples of the U.S. government trying to exert influence, if not outright control, over the means of production, both domestically and abroad.

When not disrupting previously functional industries, Republicans have also been busy propping up failing ones. Consider the case of coal.

Technological change (i.e., fracking) has made the U.S. coal industry less competitive; at least six  major U.S. coal producers have filed for bankruptcy in the past year, with the most recent filing last week. But rather than letting markets run their course, Republicans at both the federal and state levels are concocting complicated handouts.

Trump, who rants on Twitter about how Democrats want to turn us into a “Socialist or Communist Country,” has repeatedly attempted Soviet-style bailouts of failing coal plants. [Last] Tuesday, Ohio, a state under unified Republican control, decided to copy him, with a new law that adds taxpayer-funded subsidies for coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

* * *

What remains interesting is how Republicans manage to reconcile their anti-socialist words with their Big Government actions.

Polling last fall from YouGov, for instance, found that Republicans overwhelmingly supported Trump’s trade-war-driven farmer bailout, despite an avowed antipathy for “socialism.” A separate YouGov poll conducted this week asked respondents whether they considered various policies to be examples of socialism, such as free college tuition (according to Republicans: yes!), or Social Security and government medical care for veterans (both no, somehow). Medicare for the elderly is decidedly not  socialist, but something approximating Medicare for everyone definitely is.

So maybe the problem isn’t hypocrisy, exactly. It’s that the word “socialist,” to Republicans at least, has evolved to mean anything the other side is for.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is not satisfied with inflicting cruelty on asylum refugees on the Mexico border, oh no, now it wants to inflict cruelty on America’s working poor by taking away their food stamps so they go hungry. Trump proposal would push 3 million Americans off food stamps:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new rules Tuesday to limit access to food stamps for households with savings and other assets, a measure that officials said would cut benefits to about 3 million people.

In a telephone call with reporters, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Acting Deputy Under Secretary Brandon Lipps said the proposed new rules for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) were aimed at ending automatic eligibility for those who were already receiving federal and state assistance.

“This proposal will save money and preserve the integrity of the program,” Perdue said. “SNAP should be a temporary safety net.”

About 40 million low-income people received SNAP benefits in 2018. Forty-three states routinely grant eligibility to low-income people already receiving other government benefits, without undergoing income or asset tests.

Lipps said the proposal would result in an annual budgetary savings of $2.5 billion and restrict less needy individuals from qualifying for benefits.

Remember, over $25 billion in bribe money for America’s farmers to maintain their political support for Trump, not a legitimate government purpose for spending taxpayer money, but taking away $2.5 billion for food assistance to the working poor.

Lipps also said the proposal aimed to make sure that beneficiaries are treated equally across all states, and that recipients’ geographic location should not dictate their benefit level.

This is economic nonsense. Someone living in Bumfuck, Kansas does not have the same cost of living as someone living in a major urban center like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc. So what does Sonny Perdue propose to do? Round up America’s urban poor and forcibly relocate them to small towns in rural America? (Now that would be like the Soviet Union and Communist China).

That’s not much of a plan. Poverty is actually higher in rural areas. 6 charts that illustrate the divide between rural and urban America (2017):

Discussions of poverty in the United States often mistakenly focus on urban areas. While urban poverty is a unique challenge, rates of poverty have historically been higher in rural than urban areas. In fact, levels of rural poverty were often double those in urban areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

While these rural-urban gaps have diminished markedly, substantial differences persist. In 2015, 16.7 percent of the rural population was poor, compared with 13.0 percent of the urban population overall – and 10.8 percent among those living in suburban areas outside of principal cities.

Screen Shot 2019-07-29 at 10.07.52 AM

Contrary to common assumptions, substantial shares of the poor are employed. Approximately 45 percent of poor, prime-age (25-54) householders worked at least part of 2015 in rural and urban areas alike.

The link between work and poverty was different in the past. In the early 1980s, the share of the rural poor that was employed exceeded that in urban areas by more than 15 percent. Since then, more and more poor people in rural areas are also unemployed – a trend consistent with other patterns documented below.

That said, rural workers continue to benefit less from work than their urban counterparts. In 2015, 9.8 percent of rural, prime-age working householders were poor, compared with 6.8 percent of their urban counterparts. Nearly a third of the rural working poor faced extreme levels of deprivation, with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line, or approximately US$12,000 for a family of four.

Large shares of the rural workforce also live in economically precarious circumstances just above the poverty line. Nearly one in five rural working householders lived in families with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That’s nearly five percentage points more than among urban workers (13.5 percent).

According to recent research, rural-urban gaps in working poverty cannot be explained by rural workers’ levels of education, industry of employment or other similar factors that might affect earnings. Rural poverty – at least among workers – cannot be fully explained by the characteristics of the rural population. That means reducing rural poverty will require attention to the structure of rural economies and communities.

Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University

Back to The Post:

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D.-Mich), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the proposed rule was an attempt to bypass Congress which has blocked earlier attempts by the Trump administration to cut food stamps.

“This proposal is yet another attempt by this Administration to circumvent Congress and make harmful changes to nutrition assistance that have been repeatedly rejected on a bipartisan basis,” Stabenow said in a statement. “This rule would take food away from families, prevent children from getting school meals, and make it harder for states to administer food assistance.”

Stacy Dean, vice president of food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said limiting access to SNAP would overwhelmingly affect working families, seniors and people with disabilities. It could encourage some recipients to spend down their savings or to work less to continue to qualify.

“Instead of punishing working families if they work more hours or penalizing seniors and people with disabilities who save for emergencies, the president should seek to assist them with policies that help them afford the basics and save for the future,” she said.

The proposal begins a 60-day public comment period Wednesday, and those comments must be reviewed before the proposal can go into effect. The last USDA proposal on SNAP received more than 100,000 comments.

You know what you need to do: comment!

Here in Arizona, 30,000 Arizonans could lose access to food assistance under Trump plan.

Because as Helaine Olen explains, Billionaires and millionaires are against food stamps: This is the story of Rob Undersander, a Minnesota retiree who gamed the system as a way of performing a citizen’s “audit” of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program to become the newest example of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” (that resulted in millions of poverty-struck people lost access to welfare programs they desperately needed to help them make ends meet.)

“I’ve worked hard all my life, I’ve saved money, that’s the way I was raised, to live off those savings later in life,” Undersander piously said in a video he taped for the right-wing Foundation for Government Accountability this year. As a result, he was even willing to out his financials to make his point — sharing, as he told his story, the fact that he possesses, for instance, both an Individual Retirement Account and a Roth IRA. “It was a difficult decision to come out publicly and say that I am a millionaire,” he said.

No worries! Undersander’s public admission was not in vain. On Tuesday morning, the Trump administration Department of Agriculture, headed up by Sonny Perdue (estimated net worth somewhere between $11 million and $53 million), announced planned new regulations for SNAP eligibility, ones that will likely result in 3 million losing their benefits. At issue? The loophole Undersander deliberately exploited to make a political point.

The majority of states deem people eligible for SNAP benefits if they benefit from other government safety net programs. The reason? Many people who could receive them do not file for them, something experts attribute to a combination of lack of knowledge, inability or unwillingness to navigate the sometimes daunting bureaucracy, and shame over needing them at all. Allowing people to receive benefits automatically minus an asset check is a way of getting around that problem. It also encourages low-income people to save, something just about everyone agrees is a good thing.

* * *

There is a cluelessness about the struggles of the poverty-struck in this country. SNAP is a great place to see this in action. People who get food stamps are relentlessly shamed, their purchasing habits ruthlessly judged. A few months ago, one woman called her local news station after she attempted to help out a fellow shopper at her local Albertsons who needed $12 more on her SNAP card to pay for the contents of her shopping cart. A clerk refused to take the money. “That’s why they have babies, so they’re getting all the free stuff,” she says the clerk told her by way of explanation. The hapless shopper was attempting to purchase fruits and vegetables.

This is hardly the Trump administration’s first attempt to take SNAP and other social welfare benefits away from people who need them. The administration’s annual federal budgets routinely propose cuts to the programs ranging from SNAP to subsidized housing. The administration even, at one point, pitched replacing a percentage of the benefits with what was described as “a Blue-Apron like” box of non-perishable food. It is also seeking to potentially redefine how poverty itself is calculated so that it would be harder to qualify for such government aid as SNAP and Medicaid. At the same time, the Trump administration is making it harder for people to get ahead, by fighting attempts to raise the minimum wage.

In fact, it can seem like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach to food stamps and other social safety net benefits. On one hand, Trump and other Republicans insist that beefing up eligibility standards is a way to prevent slackers and other layabouts from benefiting from the system. They are, they say, promoting work. On the other hand, they are punishing people for trying to get ahead, accusing them of seeking more than they deserve at the expense of the taxpayer.

* * *

[O]ur billionaire and millionaire overlords and their minions are literally taking food out of a lot of hungry people’s mouths. That should be a crime, or at the very least a serious social embarrassment. It’s our shame as a nation that it’s not.