Paul Ryan

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) is determined to hold the farm bill hostage until his demands to institute mandatory work requirements on food stamp recipients is agreed upon by the Senate.

On Wednesday, Mother Jones reported that Speaker Ryan is refusing to pass the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill — which sets U.S. agricultural policy every five years — until Senate Republicans agree to the House Farm Bill’s work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that if the new work requirements were passed, 1.2 million people (PDF link) would lose SNAP benefits.

This is particularly ironic, since 48-year-old Paul Ryan has been receiving government checks for most of his adult life, and some of his teenage years. A July 2010 article about Ryan for the Wisconsin Interest magazine revealed that between the ages of 16 and 18, Paul Ryan received Social Security survivors’ benefits, which he put away in order to pay for college.

After graduating in 1992, Ryan worked as a legislative aide to Senator Bob Kasten (R-Wisconsin), before a three-year stint as a speechwriter for conservative group Empower America (now known as Freedomworks). He then went back to Capitol Hill, working as a legislative director for then-Congressman Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) for two years, and officially assumed office as the Congressman for Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District at the age of 28. He’s been there ever since.

This means that Paul Ryan has been at least partially dependent on the federal government as an income source since the age of 16, excluding a few years as marketing consultant for his family’s construction business and as a speechwriter.

Ryan’s argument that work requirements for SNAP benefits will save money is dubious, considering his enthusiastic support for the 2017 package of $2.3 trillion in tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefited the uber-wealthy. In fiscal year 2017, the food stamp program cost approximately $70 billion, helping more than 40 million Americans afford food for their families for an average of $126/month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

This means that, assuming the CBO’s estimate of 1.2 million people losing their food stamps is correct, the government would save all of $151 million if Paul Ryan got his way, or $1.5 billion over a ten-year period. To put that in perspective, that is approximately 0.06 percent of the amount of money the GOP tax cuts will cost each year in lost revenue.

Ryan’s farm bill passed the House with a very slim two-vote margin with the work requirements included, so it isn’t likely the Senate will pass a farm bill with work requirements.


Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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