No SNAP for Striking Workers?

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The Republican war on low-income Americans is breathtaking in its audacity.  Already this year the Republicans in the House have reduced, or cut completely, funding for programs that enable low-income Americans to keep the heat on in winter, obtain legal services, access healthcare at Community Health Centers.  Republicans have busted public sector unions in states across the country and Congress has cut funding for grant programs that allow low-income communities to provide services to the homeless and food insecure.

Today, thanks to ThinkProgress, we find this.  Buried in a recently introduced GOP bill is a provision that make any family of a striking worker ineligible for food stamps. This is nadir of class warfare.

‘(3) STRIKING WORKERS INELIGIBLE- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no member of a family unit shall participate in the food stamp program at any time that any able-bodied work eligible adult member of such household is on strike as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (29 U.S.C. 142(2)), because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 2(9) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U.S.C. 152(9)): Provided, That a family unit shall not lose its eligibility to participate in the food stamp program as a result of one of its members going on strike if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household: Provided further, That such ineligibility shall not apply to any family unit that does not contain a member on strike, if any of its members refuses to accept employment at a plant or site because of a strike or lockout.’.

As pernicious as H.R. 1135 is, it is actually just an expansion of current eligibility provisions.  The 2008 Farm Bill, which reauthorized SNAP, makes public employees who have been terminating for participating in a strike ineligible for benefits.  Rep Joe Baca (D-CA) has introduced a bill to remove that provision.  As Mr. Baca said, “It is important the federal government is there to lend a helping hand to those courageous individuals who exercise their right to strike in order to create a better life for themselves and their families”

The five Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 1135 have found an ingenious way to bust unions by holding the safety net hostage.  Strikes are the only power that workers have to agitate for better pay, improved conditions, and a better life for their families.  What worker wouldn’t think twice about going on strike if it meant not being able to access the safety net programs meant to keep his or her family safe and healthy?

H.R. 1135 is ostensibly about verifying that those receiving the entire range of federal safety net provisions meet the guidelines to access the benefits.  Under the guise of ensuring that federal money is spent well the GOP is holding the American worker hostage.  Dare to strike for the possibility of a better life and lost the ability to help your family weather the strike.  It’s a win/win for Republicans.  Either they neuter unions or reduce the amount of people receiving public assistance.

This is why United Way of King County’s Hunger Action Week is so vital.  Hunger is a symptom of the growing income inequality in this nation.  The minimum wage in Washington State is $8.67.  At forty hours a week that’s $18,033, before taxes.  A single person would receive sixteen dollars in food stamp benefits at that rate.  If creating a living wage standard is out of reach at the moment, we can ensure that the safety net remains strong.  That’s why we need to use the platform that HAW provides to connect, organize, and build a movement to end hunger and protect the safety net.

We can use the momentum of Hunger Action Week to fight bills like H.R. 1135 and support people like Representative Baca.  His bill, H.R. 530, currently does not have co-sponsors.  He’ll need help to get his bill through the committee process and onto the floor of the House.  If we all take a moment to call our Representatives we might be able to give this bill the push that it needs.  At the same time we can let them know that H.R. 1135 should never make it out of its committee.

13.7 million people are unemployed and  42 million receive SNAP benefits.    The House GOP is considering cutting SNAP benefits (outside of making strikers ineligible) and increasing work requirements as part of their 2012 budget.  The cuts to SNAP would help to protect farm subsidies from cuts.  The assault on workers and low-income Americans will continue unless we stand up and say no.

So let’s say no.

Update, March 25 2011

The law actually goes back to 1981.  It has also been upheld by the Supreme Court.  Yes it is embarrassing that I, and a lot of liberals and progressives, didn’t know it went back this far.

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  1. […] This is worth repeating: Congressional Republicans found a novel way to increase hunger and bust unions. […]



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