WASHINGTON -- Jason Greenslate is America's most famous food stamp recipient.
Fox News profiled the 28-year-old San Diego resident in two August segments about America's "food stamp binge." The stories showed Greenslate buying sushi and lobster with a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program debit card. Greenslate plays in a rock band and laughed at the idea of getting a normal job.
“This is the way I want to live and I don’t really see anything changing,” Greenslate said in front of the news cameras. “It’s free food; it’s awesome.”
Fox distributed the clips to Capitol Hill offices, and Greenslate became Republicans' poster boy in their effort to cut nutrition spending. On Thursday evening, shortly before the House of Representatives voted to trim food stamps by 5 percent, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) said, "You can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you."
Greenslate, for his part, said he thinks it's stupid for Congress to legislate based on the Fox stories.
"I don't think that one person should be the decision for 47 million people," Greenslate told HuffPost after Thursday's vote.
Much of the food stamp debate turned on the question of who are those 47 million people? Greenslate is not exactly a representative example. Government data make clear the vast majority of households receiving benefits include at least one member who is either a child, elderly, or disabled. But Republicans have focused on recipients who are able-bodied adults without dependents -- people who may be like Greenslate.
Able-bodied adults without dependents made up 10.2 percent of SNAP population in 2011, up from 6.6 percent in 2007. Federal law only allows such "ABAWDs" to receive three months of food stamps, but most states waive the requirement because of high unemployment.
Research shows the doubling of food stamp rolls from 2007 to 2012 owes to the bad economy. But Republicans, led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), have emphasized the waivers. Thursday's legislation would take the waivers away, thereby denying benefits to 1.7 million Americans next year.
The legislation, in the unlikely event it becomes law in its entirety, would reduce SNAP enrollment by 3.8 million in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The House GOP bill will have to be merged with more moderate Senate legislation before any of it can become law.
Greenslate said he's not lazy, putting more than 40 hours per week into his band, Ratt Life, which has an album coming out in six weeks. He said Fox found him through a friend. He cooperated with three days of the network's filming in hopes his band could win some publicity. It won him some local media attention, he said, but also an interview with a local prosecutor who wondered if Greenslate had broken any laws (he apparently hasn't).
"I do work," Greenslate said. "I'm just not making any money. I'm setting up a career for myself."
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who represents part of San Diego county, said he has a low opinion of Greenslate's career strategy.
"Clearly it's an example of somebody using a government program that is unreasonable, considering he has chosen to make less money and is using public assistance for a lifestyle decision," Issa told HuffPost. "He obviously is anticipating being very rich later and not paying back the money."
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a member of the House committee that oversees nutrition assistance, said he resented that Greenslate had posed for a portrait of the ultimate food stamp loafer.
"I don't give a damn about surfer dude," McGovern told HuffPost. "As far as I'm concerned, he can walk off the nearest pier. To suggest that he's the face of SNAP is offensive."
In a follow-up email, Greenslate lamented that Fox had portrayed him as a beach bum. "I don't feel like a bum," he said. "I pull hot chicks, drive nice cars, dress nice and wear the most baddest jewelry in the world."