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Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:47 PM
Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:47 PM


            Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress
Welfare reform caught up in passage of farm bill in Congress

Republicans’ next big push for welfare reform has come courtesy of a bill designed to pay for the nation’s farm programs.

The federal farm bill, which expires Oct. 1, is aimed at providing federal support to farmers who may need it during tough times. But roughly 80 percent of the bill goes to federal food assistance, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, making the bill’s passage traditionally a bipartisan affair, with urban and rural lawmakers joining forces to both help feed the poor and to keep farmers facing rough times from being driven out of business entirely.

RELATED: House panel moves to curb food stamps

But this year’s bill has been different. Instead, to Democrats’ fury, House Republicans see the farm bill as an opportunity to take a crack at welfare reform.

A bill passed on party lines by the House Agriculture Committee last week would significantly beef up current SNAP work requirements. Republicans say the program should shrink – the economy has improved and the program was designed to be a hand up, not a hand out. Democrats, meanwhile, say it’s cruel.

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, compares it to the unemployed good friend who moves in with you. “You’d be like, ‘hey, man, I’m glad to help you out for awhile, but are you going to go to any job interviews?’” he said. “We would do that! And somehow when the government does it it’s mean. And we have to be willing to do what we would do even for our friends or we’re not going to get this spending under control.”

Counters Melissa Boteach, the senior vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the left-leaning Center for American Progress: “Taking away someone’s food isn’t going to help them find a job any faster.”

Here’s how the bill would change work requirements: Current law requires able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 with no dependents to work at least 20 hours a week or receive an equivalent amount of job training in order to receive the benefits.

They’re allowed to be unemployed for three months during a three-year period, but beyond that, face the risk of losing their benefits. And states have the flexibility to loosen that requirement or beef it up, depending on their preference. The disabled, seniors, and those taking care of children are exempt from the work requirement.

The bill passed last week by the House Agriculture Committee changes that age range to the ages of 18 to 59. It also imposed the work requirements on those with children over age six. And it imposed a set of progressively tougher sanctions for those who can’t prove they’re working or receiving job training, starting with the loss of benefits for a year.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Food Banks, said the new requirements include “some of the most punitive provisions I’ve ever seen in doing 30 years of doing this work.”

“I’ve never seen anything as cruel as this piece of legislation,” she said.

But its defenders say the bill will help refocus the program into one that helps those who cannot help themselves.

“The economy’s in great shape,” said Robert Doar of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “There are opportunities out there. The labor force participation is still below what it was at the beginning of the Great Recession. There are still people who are eligible to work who are remaining on the sidelines.”

He said more than nine million Americans to receive the benefits “could work.”

“I think most Americans believe the purpose of programs like the food stamp benefit is to help people move out of poverty through earnings, not to keep them more comfortable or less uncomfortable in poverty,” he said.

SNAP helps to feed some 40 million low income Americans. In Ohio, Hamler-Fugitt said, some 1.4 million people participate. Of that group, more than 700,000 are children. Some 200,000 are seniors. And 360,000 are people with disabilities.

The bill also federal dollars to help states create job training programs for those who must meet the work requirement.

Democrats, however, argue that money isn’t nearly enough.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said states will have to develop training programs to comply with the bill. And there’s no requirement, she said, that training leads to work. “We are, in fact, creating a bureaucracy at the state and local level,” she said, saying that the bill doesn’t include enough money to actually pay for that bureaucracy.

But Doar disputes the notion that the bill underfunded the job training programs, saying states and localities also have job training resources. “I think they could make substantial, significant progress to helping people move out of poverty with the resources being offered here,” said Doar, a former commissioner of social services for the state of New York.

Rep. Jim Jordan, an Urbana Republican who has long championed welfare reform, said the move is overdue.

He said reforming welfare would “help everyone – help the economy, help the budget, help employers and most importantly, help people stuck in the dependency welfare lifestyle.”

“Every single day when I’m out an about in the district, I’m talking to employers who are finding it difficult to find people to work,” he said. “There are employment needs out there.”

Still, he’s not sure if he’ll back the bill when it comes to the floor of the House, he said in an interview this week. He’s concerned about the money devoted to workforce development. “I’m nervous about another government program,” he said. And he knows it will be a hard sell in the Senate, where the majority is far more narrow. He said if Congress can’t reform welfare as part of its agriculture bill, it should consider a short-term extension until it can do so.

“I want to make sure it’s the right tough love approach that is going to help people get a better position in life and recognizes the fact that the taxpayers are paying for this,” he said.

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BY THE NUMBERS

80 percent of the farm bill goes to federal food assistance

SNAP helps to feed some 40 million low income Americans.

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Trump explodes on Twitter, demands new review of 2016 investigation

Published: Sunday, May 20, 2018 @ 3:12 PM

Venting his frustration in a series of tweets on Sunday, President Donald Trump again demanded to know how the Justice Department, FBI, and Obama Administration handled questions of Russian interference in the 2016 election, saying he would request a new review specifically to see if an investigation was opened for ‘political purposes’ involving his campaign.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” the President said.

It was one of a number of tweets where Mr. Trump flashed aggravation with the investigation into questions of Russian interference in the 2016 elections this weekend, as he repeated his charge that the feds had gone easy on Hillary Clinton and Democrats, while focusing investigative resources on his own campaign.

What seemingly set off Mr. Trump on Sunday was a report in the New York Times, which said Donald Trump Jr. had held a meeting at Trump Tower in the months before the elections, to hear an offer of help from emissaries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Witch Hunt finds no Collusion with Russia – so now they’re looking at the rest of the World,” the President tweeted.

The President’s call for a review of how the FBI handled questions about Russian interference is already the subject of a review inside the Justice Department – it wasn’t clear how this request would be dealt with by officials.

“There are rules,” said Carrie Cordero, a former Justice Department national security lawyer, who is now a professor at Georgetown University Law School.

In Congress, Democrats saw the President’s tweets as a signal of one thing – that he’s worried about what investigators are finding out about the 2016 probe, as they raised questions of whether the President is trying to exert political pressure on the Justice Department.

“The President has sent 8 tweets in 5 hours on Hillary and the Mueller investigation,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “He is unhinged.”

“A President who has nothing to hide would not have done another series of tweets this Sunday Morning smearing the DOJ investigation,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

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Farm bill derailed over House GOP battle on immigration

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 4:13 PM

Unable to broker an agreement on a schedule for votes on bills dealing with immigration, a simmering internal fight among Republicans on that hot button issue boiled over on the House floor Friday, resulting in the defeat of a major farm policy bill, with the outcome raising the chances that the House will have a wide open showdown over DACA and illegal immigrant “Dreamers” in June.

A frustrated House Speaker Paul Ryan stood with his arms folded in the Well of the House as the 213-198 rejection of the Farm Bill was an embarrassing reminder of the inability of GOP leaders to forge an immigration bill that can pass Congress – and get the support of the President.

“I don’t know if the Freedom Caucus is ever going to say ‘yes’ to anything,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), as many Republicans blamed the group of more conservative GOP lawmakers for opposing the Farm Bill, in an effort to get a vote on an immigration bill that they would support.

“We had an agreement yesterday,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA). “They pulled back off of that agreement.”

There were 30 Republicans who voted against the Farm Bill, for a mixture of reasons. Some over immigration, some because it spent too much, while there was also a group of more moderate Republicans who opposed changes in work requirements in the food stamp program.

“It doesn’t actually save money,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH). “In the first five years of the bill, it spends more money.”

For others, their opposition had nothing to do with farm policy.

“I think at this point, we really just need to deal with immigration,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the head of the House Freedom Caucus. “Hopefully we’ll fix the Farm Bill and the immigration bill.”

“My main focus was making sure we do immigration policy right,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

Those type of comments sparked finger pointing from fellow Republicans.

“When you have people like Jim Jordan taking down the Farm Bill for other issues, they’re acting just like Chuck Schumer and the Democrats over in the Senate,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH).

In the aftermath of the vote, Republicans who have pressed a ‘discharge petition’ to force action on immigration said their efforts were not over.

“What we have been working on most of the week is a timeline, a date certain, when we bring most of this up,” Rep. Denham told reporters, as he predicted there would be 218 signatures soon, which would force action on immigration.

Under the plan, four different immigration bills would be in order, giving all sides an opportunity to bring up their issues – but Denham says the final outcome must be something that allows “Dreamers” a pathway to citizenship, and includes serious border security measures.

“We are now working on the substance of that bill, and trying to come together on a 218-bipartisan bill,” Denham added, saying he was working with the White House as well.

“Ultimately we want to have something we not only put on the President’s desk, but one the President will actually support,” Denham said.

Once there are 218 signatures, that will start a clock for action in June.

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Trump expresses support for victims of Texas school shooting

Published: Friday, May 18, 2018 @ 1:13 PM

In the wake of shooting at a high school in Texas, President Donald Trump on Friday expressed the grief of the nation, telling the families of the victims, “We’re with you in this tragic hour, and we will be with you forever,” as Mr. Trump bemoaned what has become a familiar occurrence, a mass shooting involving young students.

“This has been going on too long in our country,” the President said in the East Room of the White House. “Too many years. Too many decades.”

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools, and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Mr. Trump added.

Mr. Trump’s message echoed his words after a mass shooting late last year in Parkland, Florida, which set off a loud political response.

“Everyone must work together, at every level of government, to keep our children safe,” the President said.

“I’m praying for all of the victims and their families and loved ones,” said Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was seriously wounded in a gun attack last year on a group of Republican lawmakers, gathered for an early morning baseball practice outside of Washington, D.C.

“This is a senseless tragedy,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA).

News of the shooting spread as the U.S. House was wrapping up work for the week, as Democrats swiftly demanded action in the Congress on measures dealing with gun violence.

“Children’s lives are being cut short by senseless gun violence,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA). “It is past time for Congress to act to prevent more innocent deaths.”

“We have to stop this,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).

“We are not powerless,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “We are supposed to be leaders and take action.”

“Congress and Trump must finally have the courage to stand up to the NRA and do what the American people want,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “Enough is enough!”

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Immigration debate roils Republicans again in Congress

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 10:27 PM

An internal wrestling match over the best path forward on immigration left various factions of Republicans in the House increasingly at odds with each other Thursday, imperiling approval of a major farm policy bill, as GOP leaders struggled to prevent an arcane rules maneuver from being used to force a vote on the DACA program.

“What we’ve been trying to do is find an immigration bill that has 218 votes,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We’ve been laboring to get to 218.”

“It’s clear that we don’t have 218 for a specific bill,” Ryan told reporters, the first real public admission by GOP leaders that a plan favored by President Trump is not going to make it through the House without changes.

“We’re working in earnest with our members to try to address all of their concerns,” the Speaker added, as meetings in the Capitol among various Republicans stretched into the night.

On one hand, more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus were trying to get GOP leaders to agree to bring up an immigration bill backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) – even though it won’t have enough votes to pass – doing all they can to avoid a vote on a plan which would allow illegal immigrant “Dreamers” to get on a pathway to citizenship in the United States, an idea that was sure to draw support from Democrats.

While over 130 Democrats on Thursday signed onto a special “discharge petition,” which would force votes on four different immigration plans, the key figure was still the number of GOP signatures, which remained at 20.

A combination of 25 Republicans – and all 193 Democrats – would set in motion a procedural push on immigration which GOP leaders want to avoid, because it might only mean a victory for a bill dealing with DACA, and not measures called for by the President on illegal immigration.

These are the 20 GOP lawmakers who have signed on so far:



One solution being floated was a minimal immigration bill dealing with DACA and border security – but the problem for the GOP in the House is fairly straightforward – if a bill does nothing on DACA it loses certain votes, and if you add DACA in, that pushes other Republicans away.

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