May 16, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Is Biden really open to work requirements on food aid?
Americans should not have to earn liberties they’re already entitled to.
It was reported Monday that the president is open to the idea of putting work requirements on federal jobless aid, namely food stamps, while he’s negotiating with the House Republicans over the debt ceiling. However, a close reading of that reporting reveals that it’s more ambiguous than it’s otherwise suggesting.
HuffPost ran Arthur Delaney’s story with this headline:
“Joe Biden Open To Stricter Work Requirements For Federal Aid.”
Delaney reported that the House Republicans “have proposed cutting health care and food benefits to unemployed adults without dependents as part of a broader legislative deal that would cut federal spending but allow the government to function.”
Delaney reported that the president ruled out work requirements “for Medicaid, which covers health care costs for more than 85 million Americans. But he didn’t say the same for food assistance, and he noted that as a senator, he voted for the 1996 welfare reform law that cracked down on food and cash aid to unemployed adults.”
Whether Biden is open to this terrible idea will likely be revealed after today’s expected meeting with the House Republicans. Dimes to donuts, though: In his Sunday remarks, he was burnishing his anti-welfare fraud bona fides without really being receptive to illiberal policies that might deny hungry Americans access to grocery money.
In any event, news of the president being open to something that he may or may not be open to is an occasion for discussing, again, the question of putting work requirements on federal jobless aid.
These discussions tend to focus on research that has broken down whether work requirements are productive or counterproductive. Delaney cites the head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Sharon Parrott wrote that the “research is clear: red tape-laden work reporting requirements take help away from people while failing to deliver on the promise of increased employment and lower poverty.”
I think analysis that assesses the outcomes of government assistance is important, but I’ve always chafed at when liberals do not go farther.
The question should not be limited to whether work requirements are productive or counterproductive, because such questions center the Republicans and their white collectivist values. Liberals should ask questions that center liberal democratic values. Liberals usually don’t.
The liberal question should not be whether to put conditions on government assistance but why. Why are we putting conditions on things that citizens are entitled to by virtue of being citizens. Why are we making liberty conditional? The Republicans know what I mean.
They center liberty, but not the universal equitable kind. Theirs is about us, not them. If someone who is like them needs help – let’s call them inpeople – conditional aid is tyrannical. If someone who is not like them needs help – let’s call them outpeople – conditional aid is fair.
As House Whip Steve Scalise said: “That single mom that’s working two or three jobs right now to make ends meet under this tough economy, she doesn’t want to have to pay for somebody who’s sitting at home.”
Liberals should center liberty too, the universal equitable kind. They don’t, I think because they have largely forgotten how. Liberals who can speak from high perches tend to speak in terms of data and research – all the stuff that highly educated white people make a fetish of.
There’s another way.
Liberals should speak in terms of liberty – of the right to demand that the government protect it. Hunger is a threat to liberty. Food stamps protect it. Why are we putting conditions on rights we are born with? No one should have to earn liberties that they’re already entitled to.
Maybe there are liberal reasons to put conditions on food aid. We are not having that discussion, though. We can’t as long as we center the Republicans and their white collectivist values. Liberals should ask questions that center liberal democratic values. Perhaps, if it turns out the president is not open to work requirements on food aid, we will.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.