Having given trillions to the rich with his tax cuts, driving the national debt to new heights, President Trump is now finding ways to cut benefits for the poorest, neediest Americans – those who rely on food stamps, rent subsidies, Medicaid or participate in other federally-subsidized safety net programs.
Pushed by his conservative backers, Trump would like to do an overhaul of all government assistance for the poor, elderly, sick and needy.
However, his plan would require Democratic votes (which he can’t get) to fulfill his campaign pledge to stop what he perceives as the abuse of government programs by people who want to receive benefits but have no intention of working.
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As a result, Trump signed an Executive Order today which requires no bipartisan support for a top to bottom review of all government assistance by every agency to find places where he can institute a work requirement for continued support.
Drawing on the kind of “Newspeak” described in George Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984,” where the party political party of Big Brother controls everything, even the definition of what is a fact, Trump justifies his work requirements as a favor to those getting assistance.
“The Federal Government,” says a statement accompanying his new order, “should do everything within its authority to empower individuals by providing opportunities for work.”
The quote is almost reminiscent of “Arbeit macht frei,” the German phrase that means “work will set you free,” which stood over the entrance to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Trump said in a statement that this order will restore “independence and dignity to millions of Americans,” an Orwellian sentiment if there ever was one.
Officially, the new requirements only apply to those able bodied enough to work, although there is no detail about what that means or to which programs it will apply. That is left up to the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, HUD, Education and Transportation, which are to review every public assistance program they manage to see where they can force people to work or face a loss of their subsidy checks.
While they are at it, the Executive Order also encourages them to review existing services to see how they can be streamlined or eliminated because apparently there are too many ways for poor people to grab those scraps falling off the table after the one percent have feasted.
Agencies and states are already taking action to implement new work requirements and this executive order will push that process forward.
Steven Wagner of HHS’s Administration for Children and Families has pledged that he will take “aggressive action” to strengthen work requirements to get those lazy moms and their kids off the federal dole. HHS has already started to apply the work requirement to those who receive Medicaid, for the first time since the program to give medical assistance to the needy was created as part of the Great Society by then-President Lyndon Johnson.
Apparently, making America great means forcing those who just got medical care to go to work.
HHS has also unleashed red states like Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana, Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky and Mike Huckabee’s Arkansas to apply work requirements for health benefits.
Advocates for the poor have already filed lawsuits but charging placing work requirements on Medicaid recipients is illegal but that hasn’t stopped them so far.t
This also follows a December order by the Agriculture Department that gives states more control over food stamp programs, which could mean not just work requirements but also mandatory drug testing.
And at HUD, former physician Ben Carson has been making it tougher for people to qualify for federal housing and subsidies under the Orwellian theory that giving them assistance just drives them further into poverty.
In other words, while Ben has to get by without that $31,000 conference table, he is making sure, at a time that homelessness in America is reaching epic proportions, that no one gets a roof over their head if he can find a way to keep them out.
It doesn’t matter if Trump spends millions on his trips to play golf or vacation in Florida, or for the Secret Service to follow his adult children around as they ski in Aspen, as long as someone who has to beg the government for a little help, or a mother who needs food stamps to buy milk for her kids – but who is able bodied – is forced to work for their benefits.
We have entered a world much like what Orwell described nearly 70 years ago where what is real is not what science says, but what the party holds to be true, and in this world where the rich get richer, of course, it makes sense that the poor get poorer, and also have to work harder and harder even for that.