In the era of the reality show presidency, no one could blame you for missing a few seemingly minor subplots amid the major story arcs.
Unbelievably, on the heels of 12 Russian intelligence officers being indicted for cybercrimes intended to disrupt the 2016 election, Trump traveled to Helsinki, Finland to meet President Vladimir Putin—whom Trump has called “fine” despite the Russian leader’s alleged penchant for murdering journalists and using nerve agents to attack political enemies—and agreed with Putin, against the consensus of the United States intelligence community, that Russia did nothing wrong.
And lest we forget the family separation crisis at the southern border, which reached a fever pitch in June but has scarcely been solved, reports have emerged that detained immigrant parents are being reunited with children who no longer recognize them.
So, you’d be forgiven for completely missing Republicans’ latest assault against our nation’s own children and their low-income parents through the always-byzantine piece of agricultural and food policy legislation known as the farm bill.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 265,000 students—roughly the entire population of Jersey City—would lose their free lunches if categorical eligibility is dropped.
Last month, the House of Representatives narrowly passed its version of the 2018 farm bill that, among other things, cuts nearly $20 billion out of SNAP and introduces new eligibility requirements for the program. With House Democrats unanimously opposed to the bill, it already has the president’s backing: Between a barrage of tweets about immigration and FLOTUS' controversial “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket in June, Trump tweeted that he was "so happy to see work requirements included" in the House bill, which would force adult SNAP recipients without young children to work at least 20 hours per week to qualify for assistance. Census bureau data shows that 58 percent of working-age, non-disabled SNAP recipients are already employed; for households with children, the figures climbs to 62 percent. (Critics of stricter eligibility say that requiring people to work in order to eat does not help to lift them out of poverty.)
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Hunger affects far more than 265,000 American kids, however. More than half of our country’s schoolchildren—more than 30 million of them—currently receive free or reduced-price lunches because their families earn below a set income threshold, or because they qualify for other forms of assistance. Elimination of categorical eligibility would place an even harsher burden on families that are already struggling to get by.
Criticisms of the House bill have come from the left and even the right, with few commentators willing to defend literally taking food out of children’s mouths. Writing in an op-ed for the Denver Post last week, two pediatricians didn’t mince words: “The partisan food fight over SNAP in the House farm bill threatens the health of millions. At a time when Congress is paying close attention to cutting costs, we should remember that providing children healthy food offers a high return on investment for generations to come. Food is the fuel we all need for our bodies and minds in order to be productive members of society.”
“He decided to go off on his right-wing fantasy, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Peterson said of Conaway. “If that’s what he’s going to do, there’s no way I can negotiate with him.”
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At this point, Conaway appears to be digging in his heels. “I’m getting a lot of my colleagues unsolicited coming up and telling me, ‘you’ve got to keep the work requirements, you’ve got to keep the work requirements,’ that kind of stuff,” he told Agri-Pulse, a food and farm policy news outlet. “For the 213 [Republicans] that helped pass the House bill, the work issue is a big deal.”
Peterson, meanwhile, has said, “If they insist on the food stamp stuff there won’t be a farm bill—it’s that simple.” Only time, and midterm politicking, will tell if Congress really has the best interests of America’s most vulnerable citizens in mind.