How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

We need competent, not less government

In Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address he uttered one his most famous lines: "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Reagan was making the point that big government was not the solution to the economic crisis he had inherited from Jimmy Carter. Reagan wasn't saying government is the problem in general - his concern, like the Trump administration, was programs for the poor.

Despite his general small government message, Reagan tripled the federal debt from $997 billion in 1981 to $2.857 trillion in 1989. He slashed domestic spending by tens of billions of dollars, while dramatically increasing defense spending to thwart any expansionary notions of the Soviet Union. Reagan employed the trope of the "Evil Empire" to denounce the Soviet Union and "Welfare Queens" to rally support for his attempts to reform the welfare system.

Unlike his predecessors LBJ, Nixon and Carter who had expanded the role of government domestically, Reagan wanted to shrink the safety net, reduce income and capital gains taxes and eliminate regulations on business. These were the pillars of Reaganomics or trickle down, supply-side economics which embraces the notion that free-markets and capitalism will solve all of the nation's ills.

These failed precepts are at the root of Trump administration's domestic agenda and economic policy - cutting government give-a-way programs for the poor will make them more self-sufficiency and cutting taxes on the rich will spur prosperity.

Eduardo Porter wrote in The New York Times on May 15, 2018, "In December, Republicans dusted off the old trickle-down slogans to justify a nearly $2 trillion tax cut, blithely ignoring a virtual consensus among economists and glossing over a 40-year body of evidence that the only people who benefit from tax cuts for the rich are, well, the rich...We have been here before, more than 20 years ago, when the embattled President Bill Clinton embraced the Republicans' "welfare to work" strategy and replaced the federal program to aid poor families with children with a rash of state-managed programs that imposed stringent work requirements on beneficiaries." The result was that the income of those freed from dependency hardly rose and their situation and the plight of their children got much worse.

With the tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans in place, the Trump Administration is focused on establishing new work requirements on various welfare programs designed to protect very low-income individuals and families from poverty and hardship. The programs that comprise the federal safety net are meant to provide basic benefits or necessities such as food and housing to catch Americans if they fall on very hard times. The common element of all the programs is that they are means-tested - in order to be eligible to participate one must have an income from jobs or self-employment at below a defined level. If one's income is above the level ,one does not qualify for benefits.

The Trump administration is currently pushing for stricter work requirements for food stamp (SNAP) recipients, with a focus on high-unemployment areas that have been exempt from these rules since the recession. To qualify for SNAP benefits one's maximum gross income must be no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level, and one's maximum net monthly income no more than 100 percent of the federal poverty level. If a household consists of one person, the gross monthly income to be eligible for SNAP is $1,287 (net $990) and $2,665 for a 4-person household.

Under the current SNAP rules, individuals ages 18 to 50 are limited to three months of benefits every three years unless they work or participate in a training program. The administration has proposed rising the age of those who face the time limit to 62 and changing the current law to make it harder for states to exempt vulnerable individuals living in high-unemployment areas. The premise behind the tightening of the rules is that we should exclude the "undeserving" poor from SNAP eligibility.

This latest assault on the poor would allow Republican-controlled states to impose new work requirements on SNAP recipients - requirements whose main effect would probably be not more work, but simply fewer people getting food.

I truly believe that growing income inequality is threatening the cohesion that makes our nation a special place. The reason the Trump administration is focusing on SNAP is because we are seeing more folks availing themselves of the program. That is akin to looking askance at the number of taking people insulin because they have diabetes and seeing it as something bad rather than an appropriate response to a perilous health condition.

SNAP has dramatically reduced the problems of hunger in America - and not just those who do not work. In fact, 81 percent of SNAP benefits go to those who are working or to those we should not expect to work--children, the elderly, and the disabled. In other words, SNAP benefits the most vulnerable among us, especially those in deep poverty. It is one of the most successful programs we have had in our social safety net. We can not afford to put more Americans in deeper poverty.