Food stamps feed costly political fire
Despite modest benefits and minimal fraud, the government's nutritional assistance program takes heat for supermarket splurges and sinking the farm bill.
The government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has drawn more heat in recent weeks after its inclusion in the $1 trillion farm bill. Republicans' demands for deeper cuts to SNAP than Democrats would accept sank the bill entirely, with Bloomberg reporting the GOP is now considering splitting farm subsidies from SNAP to revive the farm bill.
Food assistance has been part of farm legislation since 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president. Since then, the number of participants in SNAP has almost tripled, from 17 million to more than 47 million. The program's annual cost has also more than doubled to $80 billion.
Splitting SNAP from farm subsidies, however, isn't making either farmers or proponents of food aid very happy. SNAP backers say it will not only lead to cuts for the program but reduce incentive to tie it to healthful, farm-based foods. The National Farmers Union, meanwhile, is trying to rehash the initial bill with a few compromises that should get it through. Farmers groups are also aware that without SNAP's help, their subsidies could plummet.
Neither group is heartened by comments from politicians such as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who followed up the farm bill's demise by retelling a constituent's story of watching a food stamp recipient in a supermarket checkout line pay for crab legs with an Electronic Benefit Transfer card.
"He looks at the king crab legs and looks at his ground meat and realizes," Gohmert said, "because he does pay income tax . . . he is actually helping pay for the king crab legs when he can't pay for them for himself."
As The Huffington Post notes, it would be a compelling story if letters to the editor featuring the same complaint didn't appear in The Columbus Dispatch in 1993 and in the Myrtle Beach Sun-News in 2007.
"It's definitely a meme. You hear it a lot," Elizabeth Lower-Basch, an analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, told The Huffington Post. "There's a lot of a-friend-told-me-she-saw type stories."
It also doesn't adhere to the numbers. A government survey from the late '90s found that meats accounted for 34.9% of food stamp purchases, grains 19.7%, fruits and vegetables 19.6% and dairy products 12.5%. Soft drinks made up 5.6% and sweets 2.5%.
While even SNAP supporters admit the system can't overcome bad choices -- like buying luxury foods that eat into a huge chunk of the roughly $120 per month that a food stamp recipient in Pennsylvania making $2,000 a month would receive -- it's not quite as flawed as leering supermarket critics would suggest.
Nearly a third of SNAP recipients earn money by working, and 91% have annual incomes at or below the poverty line. Most recipients are either children, elderly or disabled. Fraud such as SNAP trafficking, whereby recipients exchange cards for lesser sums of cash, has dropped from 4 cents per dollar of benefits in 1993 to 1 cent per dollar from 2006 to 2008, according to the Department of Agriculture.
If they can afford beer, wine, and liquor, they should not be getting food stamps.
Minimal fraud? Ever been standing in the line at the grocery store and see someone pull a wad of cash out of their pocket and thumb through it, looking for their food stamp card? I've seen it happen a bunch of times. I've also seen these same people wearing designer clothes and loading their groceries in expensive vehicles. They also don't seem to have a problem finding cash to pay for smokes and booze.
Did this author not bother to read any previous articles about all the food stamp fraud? There have been a bunch of them written lately, but they probably aren't on Notte's reading list. Recent investigations have uncovered lots and lots of bodegas and convenience stores accepting food stamps for cigarettes. People using all of their food stamp benefit to purchase cans of soda and then sell them for pennies on the dollar to everyone else in the trailer park or ghetto. Like any other gov program, for every dollar they confiscate in taxes, about 20 cents makes it into the hands of the recipients, and the rest gets eaten up by the bureaucracy..
I spent years working as a grocery store checker. The stories of extreme excess are definitely rare, but what I would call mild excess is practically the norm. Generally all top shelf, name brand stuff. Lots of pre-prepared high salt and low nutrition stuff...
You'd also see people buying stuff that would resell easy like lots of soda and candy. The other common fraud was straw purchases where the card holder would be shopping with or for somebody else.
With the paper stamps it seemed like people still had some shame abaout using the program. The cards are too low profile and most people seem to feel no shame in using them at all...
Food stamps are another form of welfare to a bunch of lazy people who should be working somewhere.
These are the people who should be picking fruit and vegetables on the farms not the imports from Mexico. The food stamp program need to have more rules as to who can collect them. The value per person is much to high and needs to be reduced.
Part of the issue with food stamps in their current form is they are a subsidy to the entire food and retail industry. The US government is spending billions a year to keep people from growing hungry, yet pays the full shelf price for every item purchased. Much of that is purchased at the high price places those of us paying our own tab would never shop for food like drug stores and gas stations.
I've got no problem feeding all these people if we were taking advantage of economies of scale and doing it as cheaply as possible. It should be about feeding people, not helping them sustain an unaffordable lifestyle. If I were running things, I'd put the Ag dept in charge of purchasing and the post office in charge in charge of distribution. Govt brand everything for all dry goods delivered right to the door... Perishables could be met with spelled out vouchers for use at local stores similar to current WIC checks (which is a real example of a low fraud assistance program that works).
this is how it should be.. drug test the applicants if they don't have a valid prescription for it they get declined feel it should be the same for cigs too moist never change there lives as there's no penalty so why care ..I do as I work in ac at low budget apts they live in .crappy apts have brand new cars .big tvs , high class clothes stop by a des or other gov assist and see for yourself..its real sad when most there cars are 2005s and newer. newer than what I have anyhow,,,nothing will happen till we stand up and stop it..... change the system .............
Cutting out ice cream and other dessert categories would also be wise. We do have a fat-a_s_s epidemic in this country.
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