A record number of Americans have fallen into poverty since the financial crisis sparked a deep recession in 2008, but that hasn’t stopped House and Senate Republicans from targeting the poor on their crusade to slash federal spending. In September, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R) declared that “the poor are getting richer even faster” than the rich while relying on government programs, even as the number of children and senior citizens living in poverty has increased to record levels.
One of Paul’s fellow Republicans, Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R), is now joining that fight, invoking the failed welfare reform policies of the 1990s in calling for a federal cap on food stamps and other forms of welfare, vital programs for millions of impoverished families that grew even more necessary during the recession. Under Vitter and three other senators’ plan, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports, food stamps would be capped at pre-2007 levels:
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., joined last week with three other conservative GOP senators to propose caps on means-tested federal social welfare programs. It would require that funding for food stamps and 76 other federal welfare programs be capped at pre-2007 levels by 2015 or when unemployment falls below 7.5 percent, whichever comes sooner. [...]
“One of the most significant substantive accomplishments coming out of the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress was welfare reform,” Vitter said. “But as significant as this reform was, we are overdue to renew welfare reform efforts and make additional gains because the welfare state has grown enormously since then — even factoring our recession.”
What Vitter doesn’t note, however, is that welfare reform was a massive failure, reducing America’s ability to aid its poorest and neediest citizens. In 1995, the old welfare system reached 75 percent of those living in poverty, but during the depths of the recession, the “reformed” welfare program reached less than a third. Food stamps, which were not included in those reforms, increased by 57 percent in 2009 as more Americans were plunged into poverty.
This isn’t the first time the GOP has targeted food stamps this year, nor are food stamps the only social welfare program to face the Republican axe. The House Republican budget cut funding for nutrition assistance programs and other programs that help women, infants, and children. The GOP has made extending unemployment benefits a chore, even as it endlessly protects massive tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.
There are nearly 50 million people living in poverty, 15.7 million of whom are children, and without social welfare programs like food stamps, American poverty would be even worse. In 2010, 28.6 percent of Americans would have lived in poverty without social welfare programs, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Unfortunately, the Republican answer to that problem has been to propose raising taxes on the poorest Americans while simultaneously cutting the programs that are most vital to them.