In 2017, to justify changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Rep. Jodey Arrington leaned on the scriptures — specifically 2 Thessalonians 3-10: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (Washington Post, March 31, 2017)
The Republican Congressperson was arguing for making recipients work for their benefits — or face cutoff.
Some Biblical scholars argued that this was a misinterpretation of St. Paul’s intent.
But the intentions of Arrington and other right-wing officials could not be more clear. Their appeal is really not to devout Christians, but to racist stereotypes that people of color “don’t want to work.” This attack hits millions of white workers too; about half of SNAP recipients are white.
The attacks have resurfaced, accompanied by regurgitated arguments, with announcements by 25 Republican governors that unemployed workers in their states will lose the $300 weekly boost to their regular benefits. These payments were part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, passed by Congress earlier this year.
Set to run out in September anyway, the supplements will be terminated in June or July in all but two Republican-led states. Gig workers — who are generally misclassified as self-employed but were granted unemployment compensation in the recent COVID relief bills — are losing their benefits altogether.
“In Arizona, we’re going to use federal money to encourage people to work . . . instead of paying people not to work,” said Gov. Doug Ducey, whose state is giving returning workers a one-time bonus. “The Texas economy is booming, and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state,” Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed. Their sentiments were echoed by other governors opting to decline federal funds rather than pay unemployed workers extra benefits. (CBS News, June 2)
Democratic governors are not exactly clamoring to have the benefits extended past September — meaning in a few more months, unemployed people in their states will also have to choose between a low-paying job and even lower jobless benefits.
Cuts to benefits based on myth
Facts do not support the position that “paying people not to work” — i.e., giving jobless workers enough money to survive — discourages people from seeking employment. A February study by JP Morgan Chase Institute disproved that claim, finding that even after seeing their weekly unemployment checks increase by $600 at the pandemic’s onset last year, many workers returned to work before the benefits expired. (CBS News, June 2)
These politicians are really trying to force people to work for low wages. If $300 combined with their regular unemployment check — at most 50% of their average weekly pay — adds up to more than what they made working 40 hours, that means they earned no more than $15 an hour before the pandemic. Many made a lot less.
And if they worked for a fast food chain, their boss made a whole lot more. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski made almost $11 million last year. The poor CEO of Wendy’s made a mere $6.7 million. But Jose Cil, CEO of RBI — the parent company of Popeye’s, Burger King and Tim Horton’s — has a salary of $20 million!
This is pocket change compared to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, a centibillionaire (worth $100 billion) twice over.
Now these filthy rich bosses and their political stooges have a message to workers: If you shall not submit to our ruthless exploitation and work for low wages, you shall not eat. Or have health care. Or keep a roof over your head.
Enough is enough! Triple the minimum wage! No cuts in unemployment benefits — now or in September!