Mikel Jollett used to be on food stamps, and he's not ashamed.
When White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended cutting the food stamp program, musician Mike Jollett couldn't stay silent.
Food stamps, part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are in the news with the unveiling of President Donald Trump's latest budget proposal, which would cut $193 billion from the program over the next decade.
Critics of the SNAP program, like Mulvaney, think cutting social safety nets will motivate the people who rely on them to find work. The truth, however, is that many people who receive SNAP benefits do work — a fact Jollett knows all too well.
Growing up, Jollett's family relied on food stamps to live, and in this epic Twitter thread, he shares a personal anecdote to show how they helped him find success later in life:
"If we’d not had food stamps, we wouldn’t have been able to afford a place to live. This would have made matters worse.
It would’ve exposed us to higher risk of crime, a vicious cycle of shelters or who knows what else. Instead, we got some help for a while.
My mom eventually bought a house. Instead of being homeless, I graduated from high school with a 4.3 GPA, went to Stanford & graduated w honors."
These days, Jollett sings with his band, The Airborne Toxic Event, and would personally benefit from Trump's policies that favor the wealthy — but he doesn't want that.
"I’m a person now who would benefit from this stupid Trump tax cut. But I don’t want it," he tweeted. "I want the kid that was me 30 years ago to have it. So he can do his thing, succeed and contribute something great to our society."
"So yeah, people don't need a second sports car. But kids do need food. That's just common sense and common decency," he tweeted, before wrapping up the thread with a cutting concluding thought:
"Trump's tax cut plan is not only cruel, it's [INEFFECTIVE], it makes us a less equal and therefore a less PRODUCTIVE society."
Jollett hopes his tweets help clear the air around the myths and outright falsehoods when it comes to things like food stamps and health care.
"It gets intellectualized as Right vs. Left or something instead of, 'Hey this program feeds kids. That is good,'" he says. "I think it’s weird that the debate has this shaming aspect to it. Like poverty is a sin instead of a circumstance."
Public opinion about food stamps and welfare is too often shaped by caricatures rather than the facts behind them. Nearly 44 million Americans rely on food stamps each year. A January Department of Agriculture report found that the program had a rate of fraud of just 1.5%, and the truth is that most recipients of social welfare programs spend less than three years on assistance before getting back on their feet.
Misconceptions and stigma should not affect public policy, and that's why it's so great to hear people like Jollett (and so many of the people who replied to his tweets) speaking up.
By offering his own story and a bit of personal vulnerability, Jollet says he hopes to push back on what he sees as a "failure of empathy" that shapes bad politics. "It’s easy to reduce people to caricatures, to create an idea of people and dismiss their struggle. It’s a lot harder to dismiss a human being with a story."