News, Trump Administration

Trump administration proposal would end food assistance for 3.1 million people

On Tuesday, the Trump administration proposed a federal rule that would limit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) automatic eligibility to only those households that receive “substantial, ongoing” benefits. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the rule a fix to a “loophole.”

The loophole to which the USDA is referring is the policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility,” which has been in place for two decades. The policy enables states to slightly raise SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) eligibility limits so that low-income families whose income exceeds 130% of the federal poverty line can still receive benefits.

As a result of this policy, “more than 40 states effectively use less restrictive income and asset tests in SNAP,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

“These are working families who are just above SNAP’s income cutoff,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the CBPP, to NPR.

In 2020, 3.1 million SNAP participants would be eligible because of the broad-based categorical eligibility policy, according to statistics from the USDA. Under the Trump administration’s proposed rule, the policy would be eliminated, and these 3.1 million people would no longer be eligible for food assistance.

“The proposed rule would fix a loophole that has expanded SNAP recipients in some states to include people who receive assistance when they clearly don’t need it,” said the USDA in a press release this week. “In fact, the depth of this specific flexibility has become so egregious that a millionaire living in Minnesota successfully enrolled in the program simply to highlight the waste of taxpayer money.”

The millionaire living in Minnesota, 66-year-old Rob Undersander, says he enrolled in SNAP to prove a point and to “call attention to flaws in the system,” according to U.S. Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Undersander received food assistance for 19 months because his income was low during this period, even though the wealth contained in his assets qualified him to be a millionaire.

Undersander’s experience exposes the flaws in the system, Republicans say. Democrats say Undersander is an outlier who intentionally defrauded the system and took benefits away from those who most needed it.

Broad-based categorical eligibility “primarily helps households with high expenses: more than 90 percent of the resulting benefits go to households whose rent or mortgage and utility costs exceed half of their net income, and about 50 percent go to households that pay for dependent care for a child or elderly or disabled household member,” according to the CBPP.

About 36 million people currently receive SNAP benefits, a number which has declined steadily since 2013.

Commentary, immigration, Trump Administration

Trump administration’s dark immigration policy objectives are having their desired effect

In case you missed it this past weekend, The New York Times Magazine published an in-depth look at the current Department of Homeland Security, which, under Trump, has transformed from an agency with a wide range of missions into one that focuses solely on border control and enforcement.

Reportedly, at a Cabinet meeting in early 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump that to solve the immigration crisis, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen just needed to “stop letting people into the country.” Trump has seized on this idea and refuses to move away from it, despite Nielsen attempting to explain that the United States could not legally turn away someone requesting asylum at the border.

From his Muslim ban in his first week of office to the extreme “zero-tolerance” policy that led to family separation and abysmal conditions at detention centers at the border, Trump has exhibited a laser focus on toughening up immigration policy in the U.S. As the article reports:

“Supporting Trump in all this are a group of immigration restrictionists — officials and advisers who have single-mindedly pursued a policy of not just cracking down on illegal border-crossing, in the manner of conventional immigration hawks, but also limiting all immigration to the best of their ability. Chief among them is Trump’s senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller.”

Miller has encouraged Trump’s most extreme tendencies, and the article outlines how his ideas most often won out in the White House. “Increased internal enforcement,” or the policy of directing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and deport all undocumented immigrants living anywhere in the United States, was Miller’s idea.

The article ends on a grim note: As moderates are getting frustrated and leaving DHS, the ideas of the most extreme immigration restrictionists, like Miller, are rising to the top. DHS is now almost fully staffed by extremists.

Earlier this month, Raul Pinto an attorney in the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization to NC Policy Watch) authored an op-ed in which he encouraged North Carolinians not to see the workings of the federal Department of Homeland Security as separate from the conditions within North Carolina, where the legislature is attempting to pass anti-immigrant bills such as House Bills 370 and 135. As Pinto pointed out:

“This administration’s chosen tool to address immigration is fear, whether at the border or in our communities. Read more

News, Trump Administration

Mueller to Congress: Report doesn’t exonerate Trump

Robert Mueller (Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers Wednesday that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” President Trump of obstructing justice, contrary to what the president has claimed.

In the first of two back-to-back appearances before U.S. House committees, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on Trump’s claims.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. Mueller replied, “That is correct.”

Nadler continued, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller responded, “No.”

The report, Nadler went on, “expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.” Mueller said, “It does.”

Just before the hearing kicked off, Trump made his latest declaration on Twitter that the report found “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”

Little new information was revealed during Wednesday’s hearings, as the famously scripted Mueller largely stuck to the findings of his report, and repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ speculative questions. But Democrats and Republicans alike on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sought to use the closely watched hearings to gain political leverage — Democrats by asking Mueller to confirm portions of his 448-page report into Russian election interference, and Republicans by attacking Democrats’ motives and the integrity of Mueller’s team.

“For people who have read the Mueller report or followed these issues, this hearing was not surprising,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “For people who did not, this should have blown their minds, because they saw for the first time Robert Mueller saying yes to multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.”  Read more

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Donald Trump, a New York racist, communes with Southern racists

Donald Trump’s “fine people,” in their element, August 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. (Wikimedia Commons)

The question has not been — for some time — is Donald Trump a racist?

Donald Trump answered that question before he even announced his candidacy, in his putrescent championing of the “birther” movement, the nakedly prejudiced conspiracy theory concerning former President Obama.

As The Atlantic‘s David A. Graham noted this week, “bigotry has been a part of Trump’s public persona since he’s had a public persona.”

The better question is: How racist is the United States, and how racist is the political party that allows him to roam unchecked?

As you’ve likely noticed by now, the president brought his road show to Greenville Wednesday — “Have bigotry, will travel” — and made headlines, as he often does, for his supporters as much as his rambling message.

“Send her back,” the crowd chanted when the president remarked upon Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who’s spurred Trump’s ire this week. Omar’s election marked a whole host of firsts, but being the first naturalized citizen from Africa to win a seat in Congress seems to be the one that Trump supporters are latching onto.

It’s racist. It doesn’t get any more racist. And there’s a closing of the loop, if you will, to see this New York-born racist courting Southern racists, demolishing at least those geographical barriers.

But, in one of the finest commentaries I’ve seen on the subject this morning, The Charlotte Observer‘s editorial board says we should all pause before making the statement that what we saw in Greenville last night “is not North Carolina.” There’s more to it than that.

Read the editorial below:

It happened in the first half of Wednesday’s speech. Donald Trump, our president, began to talk about Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democratic from Minnesota who was among the four women of color he had attacked Sunday in a racist tweet. Everyone knew Trump would speak about the women at some point to the Greenville, North Carolina crowd. Did we know what would come next?

“Send her back.”

The chant rose quickly from a handful of voices to a chorus of bigotry. It was a chilling moment. It was “lock her up” in a white hood. It was despicable.

“Send her back.”

It could have happened at any Donald Trump rally. It might have happened in any state, north or south. But it happened in Greenville, in our state, and it was one of North Carolina’s darkest moments.

“Send her back.”

Or perhaps not. Maybe the chant will be absorbed in the vortex that is Donald Trump. In a presidency of so many shameful moments, of so many new lows, the singularly awful ones tend to lose their significance. It’s possible that North Carolina might be forgotten when the chant inevitably spreads to the next rally. But North Carolina shouldn’t forget.

For a state that likes to boast membership in the new South, we have difficulties shedding the old stench of discrimination. We were the last U.S. state to ban gay marriage just seven years ago. We were the first state to pass a transgender bathroom bill with HB2 four years after that.

And yes, we had a bit of a progressive wave here last year. We sent more people to Raleigh who think bills like HB2 are a blight on our state. But we still struggle with segregation in our cities. We still are burdened by economic disparity. We also still have overt moments like Wednesday, and we can’t blame it all on Donald Trump.

“Send her back.”

There will be a temptation for some today to point to Wednesday’s rally and say that’s not who we are in this state. We hear that kind of thing a lot these days when our president, but not only our president, acts contrary to the values we think this country shares.

But there was some backlash this week when people pointed to the president’s Sunday tweet and declared that it wasn’t who we are. Because it is, of course, part of who we always have been in America. And in North Carolina. It’s who we were in Wilmington in 1898. It’s who we were when Dorothy Counts made that first walk to Harding High. It’s who we were when we redlined blacks out of white neighborhoods decades ago. It’s who we were on a July night in Greenville, and it could be what’s coming to Charlotte next summer.

“Send her back,” Donald Trump’s supporters chanted, without seeing the irony that it was they who were moving backward. “Send her back,” they cried, and it was both a reminder and a warning that here in North Carolina, in America, going back is not that far of a journey.

News, Trump Administration

U.S. House quashes effort to consider impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House on Wednesday refused to consider impeachment articles against President Trump, with most Democrats siding with Republicans to kill the effort.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) attempted to use a procedural mechanism on the House floor to prod his colleagues to vote on his impeachment resolution stating that Trump “is unfit to be President and warrants impeachment, trial, and removal from office.”

But the House voted 332-95 in favor of a “motion to table” the effort, effectively killing the resolution. Only 95 Democrats supported Greens’ effort, with 137 Democrats joining 194 Republicans and Michigan independent Justin Amash to table the resolution.

North Carolina’s three Democrats split on the matter. David Price voted for the motion to table, while G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams voted against it. All 10 Republicans from the state voted “aye,” except for Mark Walker, who did not vote.

It comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats have urged the caucus to tread slowly on impeachment efforts. Even many of the Democrats who back an impeachment “inquiry” — a first step toward a floor vote on impeachment — say they want to spend time building a solid record against Trump in the House Judiciary Committee.

Green’s resolution specifically condemned Trump for his recent racist comments after the president told four Democratic members of Congress to “go back” to other countries.

Wednesday’s vote is expected to intensify the debate between the Democratic lawmakers who are anxious to move on impeachment and those — including some moderates who flipped Republian seats in November — who are wary of political pitfalls.

Trump derided impeachment supporters after the vote.

“The United States House of Representatives has just overwhelmingly voted to kill the Resolution on Impeachment, 332-95-1. This is perhaps the most ridiculous and time consuming project I have ever had to work on,” he wrote on Twitter. “This should never be allowed to happen to another President of the United States again!”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief of the States Newsroom Network, of which Policy Watch is a member.