Poor White Cash: GOP and Food Stamps

Republicans have become so deluded that they're engaged in class warfare against their own loyal voters.

A woman counts out food stamps while shopping for groceries in NYC Sept. 18, 2003. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
A woman counts out food stamps while shopping for groceries in NYC Sept. 18, 2003. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

(The Root) — The Republican Party is engaged in class warfare against poor and middle-class white Americans. It is a little-discussed fact but an ironic one worth noting, since those are the very same people who elect them.

This week, House Republicans passed a nutrition bill that eliminates $39 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as food stamps. Nearly 47 million Americans currently rely on SNAP — roughly 15 percent of the population — and 17.6 million U.S. households are considered food insecure, which means they aren’t sure where their next meal will come from. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (pdf), nearly 17 million of these people are children, 5 million are seniors and 300,000 are elderly veterans.

And despite prevailing racial stereotypes, which first became mainstream during President Ronald Reagan’s tenure and his propagation of the myth of a “welfare queen” from the South Side of Chicago, the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients are white. And curiously, many of them are Republicans. USDA data show that in 2011, 37 percent of food stamp users (pdf) were from white, non-Hispanic households.

And of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican candidate Mitt Romney won 213 in last year’s presidential election. Bloomberg’s John McCormick and Greg Giroux compiled research revealing that Kentucky’s Owsley County — which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote — had the largest proportion of food stamp recipients of all the communities where Romney won.

What is most curious is that this isn’t surprising. The poorest states in the union tend to be the most reliably red, with Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas among the top 10.

According to the Bloomberg research, more than half of Owsley County’s population — 52 percent — received food stamps in 2011 alone. The county’s racial makeup is 97.6 percent white, and it has a median household income of $19,344 — in comparison with the national median household income of $52,762. In fact, 4 in 10 of the country’s residents live below the poverty line, based on U.S. census statistics.

Republican Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents Owsley County and won his 16th term in the House of Representatives last year, boldly joined the GOP majority that voted to cut billions from food stamp services. It seems mind-boggling that Rogers also won 84 percent of the vote, yet in matters that most concern the economic interests of his constituents, he acts with impunity.

And Rogers isn’t alone.

Two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent America’s 100 hungriest counties voted “yea” on behalf of the measure, which eventually passed 217-210. Reps. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and a host of others joined. In fact, all but 15 members of the Grand Old Party voted in favor.