The White House and the House of Representatives are in a standoff as they debate how to combat the novel coronavirus wreaking havoc on American society. The House wants a blanket waiver for all work requirements for SNAP benefits (food stamps), recognizing that we need to discourage sick Americans from feeling like they must go to work, while the White House is insisting on implementing strict new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) on April 1. It’s unclear which side will win in the final deal purportedly coming Friday, or if there will be a compromise.
This is the latest chapter in the Trump’s administration’s prioritization of extending work requirements — even, now, in the face of a pandemic. Work requirements, at their most basic, take away assistance from families who do not report working a certain number of hours a week, in a preapproved activity. The underlying assumption is that people do not want to work, and therefore need to be coerced to do so.
This idea is rooted in a long history of racism. From the very beginning, racist stereotypes that black people do not want to work have fueled work requirements, and they have been used to coerce and exploit the labor of black families, and undervalue the work that all people do. Grappling with this history is necessary to develop policies that actually support people’s labor — in the home, as well as in the wage labor force.