Republicans don’t think poor people deserve to eat 

OPINION: Kevin McCarthy's debt ceiling plan to expand work requirements for those receiving federal benefits likely won't even cut government spending and will further harm marginalized communities.

U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy,
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy delivers a speech after he was elected on the 15th ballot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on January 7, 2023. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

They don’t need to eat and they don’t deserve to eat. 

That’s the directive from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republicans who will stop at nothing to punish people for being poor — including people who have been struggling for years, since well before the pandemic, people who have children, and people who are older. In fact, the age increase from 49 to 55 years old for work requirements for federal benefits means that older people without children stand to get hit the hardest, and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that, “the provision would put about 900,000 folks between the ages of 50 and 55 at risk of losing their food assistance.”

These vulnerable populations have been the primary targets of Republicans’ cruelty in their most recent effort to take the economy hostage and threaten to not pay the United States’ bills unless they get to hurt more poor people. And McCarthy’s cruelty is so expansive that he is even coming after children telling reporters this week, “We might have a child that has no job, no dependents but sitting on the couch, we’re going to encourage that person to get a job and have to go to work, which gives them worth and value.”

Just to get this straight, in McCarthy’s mind, children have no worth or value unless they are working. And they don’t deserve to have food on their tables unless their families can jump through hundreds of hoops in the form of work requirements. Because what work requirements do is create barriers to access to critical programs, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), that provide food assistance and financial support, the very programs Republicans are targeting. It’s extra paperwork. It’s hours in line at local and state government offices. It’s the constant threat of canceled benefits if you miss one document. 

In addition to causing more racist and classist harm than good, work requirements also cost the government a lot of money to hurt people. Research has shown that “work requirements do not lead to better financial outcomes for individuals; rather, they cost governments — which must monitor work or work-search documentation — millions of dollars.” So, not only do Republicans have the nerve to take food out of people’s mouths with inhumane work requirements, all in the name of protecting the richest of the rich and corporations from paying their fair share of taxes, but work requirements will ultimately cost more money.

Make it make sense.

This shows us yet again that Republicans don’t care about cutting government costs and that was never the goal — especially since they raised the debt limit three times under Trump and added $6.7 trillion to the national debt during his term. The goal is cruelty. The goal is racism. The goal is to hurt as many people as possible. So, don’t be surprised when some House Democrats reject this deal outright. 

And we should all brace for a messy floor vote, not only because McCarthy’s own conference has been attacking this debt limit deal and threatening his speakership, but also because for whatever asinine reason, during negotiations with the White House, it was agreed that McCarthy only has to produce two-thirds of this conference in a floor vote. Getting 150 Republican votes in the House is a ridiculously low bar that unfairly puts the onus on Democrats to get the deal across the finish line and to the requisite 218 votes. Once again, Democrats are being called on to clean up a mess that McCarthy and Republicans created, and Democrats thus have to sign off on their inhumane debt limit deal in order to prevent a global economic meltdown and domestic recession, and the notion is sickening. 

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has been clear that Democrats won’t allow the government to default on its debt telling reporters, “It is my expectation that House Republicans would keep their promise and deliver at least 150 votes as it relates to an agreement that they themselves negotiated.” He added, “Democrats will make sure that the country does not default.” But not everyone in the caucus is on board as Rep. Ro Khanna said that Democrats are “in flux.” At this point, we should all be sick and tired of Democrats being the only adults in the room while Republicans throw dangerous tantrums that threaten the most vulnerable populations in this country.

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast, and an MSNBC political analyst.

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