On Monday, Donald Trump said he would be looking “very, very strongly” at welfare reform, reasoning that “people are taking advantage of the system and then other people aren’t receiving what they really need to live and we think it’s very unfair to them.”
It’s not difficult to decode what Trump’s saying here. It’s the same tired line that politicians from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have been using for decades: that some (read: mainly black) people are unfairly receiving welfare benefits and siphoning resources away from good, hard-working (read: mainly white) people. Reagan infamously spread the “welfare queen” myth in the 1970s, a dog whistle that asserted black, single mothers were bilking the government’s welfare system. And, in 1996, then-President Clinton signed a sweeping welfare reform bill that gutted aid and imposed strict work and time requirements on welfare, which he stated would “make work and responsibility the law of the land.” Since then, the number of people living in extreme poverty—$2 per person, per day—has more than doubled.
According to reporting by Politico earlier this month, the White House was circulating a draft executive order to review anti-poverty programs as part of an impending push to change the welfare system. The preliminary draft includes things like instructing government agencies to impose tighter work requirements. Poor people already have to jump through huge hoops—like drug testing, proving they’re working or in a qualified educational program, or proving they’re not receiving child support—to receive benefits; any sort of “reform” by the Trump administration would almost certainly make these restrictions even worse.
It’s no huge surprise that Trump is looking to revisit welfare. His 2018 budget called for huge cuts to safety net programs, including food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. But there is something especially galling about the fact that Trump’s remarks come at the same time that he is pushing huge tax cuts for the rich. His agenda could not be more clear: When it comes to dealing with the wealthy and the poor, the administration’s policy is welfare for me, not for thee.