Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has shared a deeply personal story about the importance of the American safety net after Donald Trump’s administration finalised a rule that could see hundreds of thousands of people losing access to food stamps.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez pointed out some bizarre elements of the benefit rules that cut people from the programme simply for owning a beat up car.
“My family relied on food stamps … when my dad died at 48,” she wrote on Thursday after the rule was formalised.
“I was a student. If this happened then, we might have starved. Now, many people will. It’s shameful how the GOP works overtime to create freebies for the rich while dissolving lifelines of those who need it most.”
The conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation responded, arguing the new rules only apply to “able-bodied adults” between the ages of 18 and 49, or for parents with minor children, disabled people, or the elderly in their care.
But Ms Ocasio-Cortez hit back, noting several provisions that make it difficult to qualify under the new rule and other exclusionary measures in food stamp regulations.
“The rule ignores the reality of American life. Plenty of parents who support can’t claim “adult” (18+) children as dependents,” the congresswoman from New York responded.
“Getting disability status is notoriously difficult & food is an immediate need. What if someone has an undiagnosed mental issue, like severe depression?”
She then noted food stamp rules rules could lead some people with inexpensive cars to be taken off of food stamps, and said people with severe depression who cannot afford doctor’s visits for diagnosis may also lose the protections.
Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s statements came after agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue and Brandon Lipps, the deputy undersecretary of the USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, detailed the coming changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“We’re taking action to reform our SNAP program in order to restore the dignity of work to a sizeable segment of our population and be respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program,” Mr Perdue said.
He continued: “Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That’s the commitment behind SNAP, but, like other welfare programmes, it was never intended to be a way of life.”
Current rules require people with able bodies between the ages of 18 and 49 to work at least 20 hours a week for more than three months within a 36-month period in order to qualify for food stamps. Some states, however, have been allowed to offer waivers if they have high levels of unemployment.
The USDA has said 668,000 people will lose access to food stamps with the new rules.