Food stamps often have been used as a dog whistle by right-wing politicians, especially Republicans, who try to pit "productive" taxpayers against those who, it is implied, are moochers or deadbeats.
Former Gov. Bobby Jindal, no stranger to shameless political ploys, saved one of his most cynical ruses for his final days in office — attempting to cut off federal food stamps to tens of thousands of Louisianans, and leaving it for his successor, Gov. John Bel Edwards, to remedy.
Since 1996, federal law has required "able-bodied adults without dependents" (what the feds call ABAWDs) to work or take part in job training programs to get food stamps. The aim was to get people working, but by itself the law does not account for states with large pockets of poverty and high unemployment rates — like Louisiana. The law thus allows qualifying states (31 in all, including Louisiana) to seek annual waivers from the work requirement. From Day One, Louisiana has requested — and received — the waiver without fanfare under Democratic and Republican governors alike, including Jindal.
Until this year.
With just weeks to go before leaving office, Jindal announced to conservative hosannas that Louisiana no longer would seek the waiver. Suzy Sonnier, Jindal's director of Children and Family Services, said in a statement, "We are striving to reduce reliance on public benefits ... and connect Louisiana employers with ready and willing to work job candidates." Really?
Funny, Jindal never pushed this idea when he was running for governor (either time) or during his delusional, quixotic presidential run. Only on his way out the door did he cut off benefits. Moreover, Louisianans found it progressively more difficult to find work on Jindal's watch. When he took office in January 2008, Louisiana's unemployment rate was 4.3 percent — below the national average; by the end of his eight-year tenure, it was 6.3 percent — well above the national average and 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It's not hard to imagine that many ABAWDs whom Jindal tried to cut off from food stamps were employed when he took office, but not when he left — especially those in the hard-hit Oil Patch.
To his credit, Edwards quickly requested a renewal of the waiver, and earlier this month the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted it and made it retroactive. Louisiana's poor and unemployed now will have a slightly easier time feeding themselves and their children.
Food stamps often have been used as a dog whistle by right-wing politicians, especially Republicans, who try to pit "productive" taxpayers against those who, it is implied, are moochers or deadbeats. Both U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (who plans to run for David Vitter's U.S. Senate seat later this year) and state Treasurer John Kennedy (who is interested in doing the same) were quick to criticize Edwards' move. That's especially shameful for Boustany, whose coastal district includes parishes where unemployment has spiked because of declining oil prices.
And where were all those good conservatives when Jindal quietly applied for the same waiver each year, until it no longer held any political advantage for the GOP or the ambitious governor? Apparently painting Edwards as a big-spending liberal was the real agenda all along.