The 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is leading a coalition of 19 senators and 120 US representatives in demanding that Donald Trump’s administration rescind a proposed rule that would dramatically limit access to food stamps for low-income families.
“In a nation where the three wealthiest people own more wealth than the bottom half, increasing the barriers for hungry families is unconscionable,” the lawmakers, all of whom are Democrats, wrote in a letter.
The letter comes as the Department of Agriculture said it planned to tighten eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap), a government program that provides free food to roughly 40 million Americans. The move would cut about 3.1 million people from the program.
“We are moving toward a system of oligarchy, where political decisions in Washington enrich the wealthy while devastating the poor,” Sanders told the Guardian in a statement.
“President Trump and the billionaires in his administration – after giving away over $1tn in tax cuts to mainly the rich and large corporations – are now trying to strip nutrition assistance from more than three million people.”
“At a time when 40% of families can’t afford a $400 emergency and 13 million children live in poverty, this is an immoral and obscene decision,” he added. “We hope they will reconsider this proposal.”
The letter, which was spearheaded by Sanders and the Alabama Representative Teri Sewell, characterized the USDA’s new rule as “disastrous”.
Sanders and Sewell also partnered together last year to highlight a United Nations report on extreme poverty, which found the United States was unique among developing countries in allowing for the persistence of hunger and deprivation.
The USDA has insisted its proposed changes to the food stamps program are intended to save money and eradicate what the department claims is widespread abuse of the program. In the letter, the members of Congress stated that the Trump administration’s argument is “simply not true”.
“Perpetuating this lie breeds distrust in a successful program that lifted 8.4m people out of poverty in 2015,” the lawmakers noted, while pointing out that only 0.2% of benefits are mistakenly allocated to households whose net income falls above the poverty line.
Among the letter’s signatories are other 2020 Democratic presidential contenders who serve alongside Sanders in the Senate, including Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Advocacy groups have estimated that 7.4% of households with children participating in Snap would lose access to food stamps under the Trump administration’s new rule. According to the letter, the proposal would also do away with 500,000 children’s automatic eligibility for free school lunches.
Reducing income inequality has been a centerpiece of Sanders’ campaign. The Vermont senator has pushed for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, free college tuition and championed the single-payer healthcare proposal Medicare-for-All.
Appearing at a presidential forum on poverty and racism in June, Sanders reiterated his call for a “political revolution” to spur change.
“That means that millions of people have got to stand up and take on the corporate interests, the billionaire class, the 1%,” he said, “and tell them that in this country our economy and our government belong to all of us and not just wealthy campaign contributors.”