How much wealth the government should redistribute has divided us as a nation.
According to the Tax Policy Center, 45 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. The remaining 55 percent carry the load of buying food for one in eight of their fellow Americans. The 55 percent is asked to spend more than $70 billion a year on free food for others.
This does not include the more than $16 billion for free school lunches or the $2 billion spent on the WIC program providing free food to women with infants and children.
They say there’s no free lunch? In America, that simply isn’t true.
In Louisiana, close to one in five get food stamps. That’s almost twice the national average. Of the states, Louisiana has the second-highest percentage of people on food stamps.
Federal law currently limits those on food stamps to three months of benefits within a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours per week, are looking for work, or are getting job training. But because the unemployment rate in Louisiana is at least 20 percent above the national average, the state uses a waiver to exempt those who are able-bodied, healthy, and without kids from such requirements.
Republican President Donald Trump wants to change that.
According to the Foundation for Government Accountability, a watchdog group, states like Louisiana have been abusing work waivers for years — leading to able-bodied, healthy adults without kids getting food stamps, without having to work or even look for a job.
Trump’s secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, says he plans on prohibiting work requirement waivers for states unless they have an unemployment rate of at least 7 percent.
Louisiana’s current unemployment rate sits at 5 percent, well below the proposed benchmark but above the national average of 3.7 percent.
“The changes would help move people from dependence into self-sufficiency,” wrote Perdue in a tweet.
Louisiana Republican John Kennedy was one of only 13 U.S. senators voting against the recently passed Farm Bill because it did not include tough enough work requirements for food stamp recipients.
“Too much of this bill is devoted to irresponsible food stamp distribution that fails to help people realize the dignity of work,” Kennedy said.
The remainder of Louisiana’s delegation voted in favor of the bill, including gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto. Abraham said he voted for the bill because it gives Perdue more regulatory authority to clamp down on work requirement waivers.
"Hopefully these provisions will lead to a reduction in waivers, because as it has been the work requirements didn't mean anything," Abraham said.
Purdue says he also plans on changing the application process for food stamps from every two years to every year. Purdue claims the proposed changes could save taxpayers $15 billion every year.
You’ll remember this past summer Gov. John Bel Edwards warned us unless we raised state taxes Louisiana wouldn’t have enough money to administer the federally funded food stamp program. The governor knows many have a soft spot for feeding the hungry and he used the program, along with other scare tactics, to help bluff his way to a tax increase.
But how many on food stamps are genuinely hungry? Along with having the second highest percent of people on food stamps, Louisiana also has the highest rate of obesity. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, most of the poorest states are also the fattest.
Some argue the poor are disproportionately obese because they live in so-called “food deserts” and don’t have access to healthy food. Maybe so. City-parish leaders are spending hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars trying to lure grocery stores to North Baton Rouge.
According to the USDA, 81 percent of those on food stamps nationally are elderly, disabled, or have children. They won’t be impacted if Louisiana loses its work requirement waiver. Neither will the estimated 31 percent on food stamps with jobs. But those able-bodied, healthy, and unemployed will have to at the very least look for work or sign up for job training if they still want their food stamps.
Clarification: Wednesday's column did not attribute the source of quotes from Jim Kelly, who heads Covenant House, and New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. The quotes were from a story reported by nola.com.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @FaganShow.