Money to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border should be taken from funds that help poor Americans, a congressman suggested on Wednesday.
Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, speaking on CNN’s “New Day,” told host Alisyn Camerota that the government should allocate the funding from Planned Parenthood and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, to the wall project.
“Are you comfortable, congressman, with providing $1.6 billion of taxpayer money, not from Mexico, to build that wall?” Camerota asked.
“Absolutely, yes and more,” King said. “And I’d throw another $5 billion on the pile and I would find half a billion of that from right out of Planned Parenthood’s budget.”
Planned Parenthood, which is a non-profit organization that provides reproductive health care to women across the country, has come under fire from conservative politicians who have looked to defund the organization. According to its website, one in five women in the country have visited at least one of Planned Parenthood’s estimated 650 centers. Planned Parenthood sees about 2.5 million men and women a year. Planned Parenthood provides education, Pap tests, breast exams, sexual health screenings and treatments and services to prevent pregnancy. About 3 percent of its services are for abortions. The organization relies heavily on federal funding, and more than half of Planned Parenthood’s patients rely on Medicaid for essential services.
“And the rest of it could come out of food stamps and the entitlements that are being spread out for people who haven’t worked in three generations,” King continued.
“We’ve got to put America back to work. This administration will do it. And we’ve got to let — we’ve got to free them up so that they can and support the right agenda for this country,” King added.
The $1.6 billion they reference comes from the House Appropriations Committee’s spending bill, released Tuesday, that would allocate that much taxpayer money to the wall.
Notably, according to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the end of March, most Americans are opposed to building a wall.
“Eighty-six percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents oppose new spending for a border wall with Mexico,” the AP reported. “Republicans break about 2-1 in favor of the wall, but that’s more narrow support than on other priorities.”
Meanwhile, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, most people using food stamps do in fact work if they can:
“Most SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year before or after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children. (About two-thirds of SNAP recipients are not expected to work, primarily because they are children, elderly, or disabled.)”
King also cited a rise in SNAP beneficiaries.
“And — but we have seen this go from 19 million people on, now, the SNAP program, up to 47 million people on the SNAP program,” he said.
According to the Department of Agriculture, as of April 2017, about 41 million Americans benefit from SNAP. The number has not been as high as 47 million since 2013. In fact, the number of Americans using SNAP has been on the decline for the last few years. The average household benefit for recipients is $251.54, or about $124.26 a person. During a 30-day month, this comes out to $4.14 a day.
King likened his strategy to that of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s nutrition program.
“The second thing is I wouldn’t impose anything any more strict on anybody in America than what Michelle Obama did with her school lunch program. And so, I would just say let’s limit for that. Anybody that wants to have food stamps it’s up to the school lunch program. That’s fine.”
Obama made combating childhood obesity a part of her legacy during her tenure as first lady. She launched the “Let’s Move!” initiative, which aims to decrease childhood obesity. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act also came out of this campaign. The law directed schools across the country to provide students with more healthy meal options, as well as authorized federal funding to do so.
King did not say how Obama’s program, which provides children with more nutritional food, is comparable to taking poor Americans off of food stamps.
Despite the apparent need for the program during the recession, King was not convinced.
“And you don’t think all of [the recipients] need [food stamps]?” Camerota questioned.
“Oh, I’m sure that all of them didn’t need it,” King responded. “And so, we need to sit this down and ratchet it back down again. We built the program because to solve the problem of malnutrition in America, and now we have a problem of obesity.
“And when you match up the EBT card with the — what the scales say on some of the folks, I think it’s worth looking at. Michelle Obama looked at it. Republicans should be able to look at it, too.”
According to Public Health, “there are no definite answers” as to why there has been an increase in obesity in the U.S., but it can likely be attributed to consuming too many calories and not exercising enough.
Trump has previously blamed former President Barack Obama for an uptick in the number of SNAP recipients while he was in office — a claim Politifact suggested is hard to back up:
“The rise in food stamps is a direct consequence of the Great Recession, which started more than a year before Obama took office. Conservatives and liberals agree that Obama inherited a troubled economy. Whether SNAP usage would have been lower if Republicans won the presidency is impossible to tell.
“The number of food stamp beneficiaries ticked upward under President George W. Bush because of policies that broadened eligibility for the program and more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits. These policies remained in place under Obama.”
King is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year he took to Twitter to promote the white nationalist position on immigrants, saying, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”