George Boardman: Like beauty, government welfare is in the eye of the beholder
Most of the news coverage of the $956 billion farm bill currently being considered in Congress focuses on changes in the food stamp program because it makes up 80 percent of the bill and impacts millions of Americans.
As is generally the case when Republicans are in control, “reforms” that will eliminate millions of people from the program are the focus of attention. This time, the GOP wants to impose work or job training requirements that could impact as many as nine million recipients.
These reforms would require food stamp recipients to document at least 20 hours of work per week or qualifying activity every month to remain eligible. Qualifying activity would include participation in state-run job training programs that are projected to cost more than would be saved from eliminating recipients who fail to meet the requirement.
“Many workers would likely lose benefits if they couldn’t provide the needed paperwork to show they were working, if their employer cut their hours below 20 hours a week, or if they were temporarily out of work — all realistic scenarios given the reality of low-wage work,” said Brynne Keith-Jennings, senior research analyst for the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
These changes were written in private by the Republican majority of the House Agriculture Committee, then revealed to Democrats the day the committee voted to adopt them. The party line vote put Rep. Doug LaMalfa right where you expect him to be.
LaMalfa has pushed for cuts in the food stamp program ever since he was elected to Congress, once even invoking the Bible in his crusade against waste and sloth in a program that benefits many of his constituents. He even pushed for rules that ban the purchase of junk food with food stamps.
But it would be unfair to suggest LaMalfa is all about cutting benefits in the farm bill. He also backs a provision in the bill that some conservatives found so outrageous, they’ve attacked it as a “handout” to the rich and “corporate welfare.” I know you find this hard to believe, but LaMalfa and his family could benefit from the provision.
The measure involves eligibility for federal commodity payments and crop insurance, a $17 billion item in the bill. The bill allows additional categories of persons to be considered as “family members” for the purpose of increasing government payments, enabling large general partnerships to reorganize by making all relatives of an extended family eligible for additional payments.
LaMalfa is already the king of farm subsidies in Congress. The LaMalfa Family Partnership — the congressman reports a one-third interest — collected $5.3 million in government payments from 1995 to 2016, according to Department of Agriculture records.
The Heritage Foundation and about a dozen other right-leaning, free-market organizations have a real problem with expanding eligibility for these payments. “Quite simply, respect for farmers doesn’t mean tolerance for wasting taxpayer money on handouts,” the groups wrote in a letter to Congress. “Our organizations are taking farm subsidy reform very seriously in the upcoming farm bill debate.”
The measure is “rife with corporate welfare,” according to the conservative organizations, and includes provisions to expand access to subsidies for members of a family-owned farm, allowing cousins, nieces and nephews to qualify to collect government payments without having to live or work on farms. “These lavish programs already exceed a reasonable safety net, yet the bill expands them further,” the groups wrote.
Not surprisingly, LaMalfa had nothing to say about this provision when the farm bill was voted out of committee last month.
“I’m happy we were able to take the next step with the farm bill today and send it to the House floor,” he said in a press release. “All of America benefits from this farm bill in the form of food price and supply stability, better conservation practices, and more. The sooner we get this done, the better.”
The House Freedom Caucus teamed up with Democrats Friday to derail the farm bill in order to force a vote on immigration legislation. Republicans may eventually be able to round up enough votes in the House to get it passed, but it faces opposition in the Senate over the work requirements for food stamps — requirements President Donald Trump doesn’t think are tough enough.
Regardless of what the final bill looks like, it’s always good to know where our congressman stands on these issues. Like beauty, welfare is in the eye of the beholder.
Need a job?
You may not have noticed it, but Republican state Senator Ted Gaines is a candidate for the District 1 seat on the state Board of Equalization even though he still has two years left on his senate term.
Gaines is the only “name” running for the seat, and he’ll have to give up his current position if he’s elected. That means a special election will have to be held, an opportunity for his wife Beth to secure gainful public employment again.
Beth Gaines was termed out of the state Assembly, then lost a bid in 2016 to join the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. If she can succeed her husband in the state Senate, she’ll still be eligible to run for two more terms.
Never let it be said that Ted Gaines isn’t thinking of his wife.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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