As presidential hopefuls vying for the Democratic ticket offer the American people free college, free child care and better health insurance, the Trump administration is altering the social safety net to knock vulnerable people off government assistance.
New rules that went into effect in December put more strict work requirements on cash food benefits, moves which were expected to affect as many as 755,000 Americans and 91,000 Washingtonians, according to a letter sent by Gov. Jay Inslee in March when the changes were proposed.
The rules remove the flexibility counties with relatively high unemployment rates had, requiring people to work a certain number of hours monthly to qualify for benefits.
Those changes will save the government money but will hurt vulnerable Washingtonians and the businesses that sell them food, Inslee said.
“This misguided and harmful policy would severely restrict access to food assistance for those who need it most, exacerbating hunger and making it even more difficult for people in poverty to find work,” Inslee wrote in April.
The goal of the changes is to move more able-bodied people off the program and encourage them to find work, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The rule aims to restore the system to what it was meant to be: assistance through difficult times, not lifelong dependency,” according to the press release.
Changes to food benefits are only one tactic employed by the administration.
Early in their tenure, Trump officials allowed states to implement work requirements for access to Medicaid, the government insurance plan for low-income people. Conservative states like Arkansas took up the new requirements. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 18,000 people in that state fell off Medicaid rolls under the new rules, but there was no evidence that those people got jobs.
And on Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the government to implement a “public charge rule,” which could make it harder for immigrants to get green cards if they use federally funded services like food and housing benefits.
When he announced the rule, acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told NPR that the Emma Lazarus poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty should be modified to include immigrants who can “stand on their own two feet.”
The public charge rule is particularly difficult to parse because although the Supreme Court allowed the administration to implement it, a host of lower court challenges to pieces of the rule continue. That injects uncertainty into opportunities like the King County Housing Authority (KCHA) Section 8 housing voucher waitlist that is opening in February.
To apply to get on the waiting list, households have to include at least one Social Security number, but should a voucher become available, more documentation would be necessary. According to the King County Housing Authority, applications for or receipt of public housing after Feb. 24 may be considered as part of an immigration application because the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a previous injunction on the Trump administration's policy.
Cuts at the federal level means more pressure on resources closer to home.
The Seattle City Council recently approved a $2 million increase for Fresh Bucks, a program that is meant to be funded through the Sweetened Beverage Tax to get produce into the kitchens of low- and middle-income Seattle residents.
“Tripling the size of Fresh Bucks is an important step,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a press release, “but ultimately, we need the federal government to abandon their arbitrary and cruel changes to snap, and actually help working families put food on the table.”
Update: This article has been updated to include new information from King County Housing Authority on the use of an application or receipt of public housing on an immigration application.
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC.
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