Food Stamps: Dollars In, Calories Out
47 million Americans use food stamps, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
According to demographic data, 43% of SNAP participants are white, 33% are African-American, 19% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian, and 2% are Native American (source). Half of the people receiving SNAP benefits are children younger than 18 and two-thirds of those children are living in single-parent homes.
SNAP helps a lot of people from all walks of life at all stages of their life.
Food Stamps: What Comes to Mind?
The very mention of food stamps evokes different things for different people. Some envision shoppers at a supermarket. Others imagine clever, lazy folks who live off the government. If you don’t recall the red ticket number machine and the plastic bucket chairs at the application office, consider yourself fortunate.
I’ve heard my social media contacts complain of food stamp recipients who use their SNAP benefits to buy alcohol or eat dinner at strip clubs. I also heard them share a story about a welfare recipient who is on food stamps but drives a $500,000 car. (If you find proof about that, please let me know.) There are always folks who will game a system to their own benefit but there are plenty of people who genuinely appreciate the help they receive from SNAP.
When it comes to welfare, people tend to generalize in an irrational manner. Blanket statements about “those poor freeloaders” often raises people’s blood pressure and drives them to call for the complete def of food stamps.
It Won’t Go Away
The Food Stamp program began in 1939. Over the years, politicians have attempted to dismantle SNAP in various ways with varying levels of success. However, the food industry will always work to keep the food stamp program alive because they are also a beneficiary of the program. Poor people get money for food but that money comes as a voucher that can only be spent on the food industry. The food stamp program could be viewed as corporate welfare as much as it is personal welfare.
Don’t Touch Company Cash
Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York City, tried to remove soda from the EBT card purchasing list in a temporary initiative that would last for two years in order to study the effects on the city’s residents. Would people become a little more healthy if they drank less soda? Nobody knows because the study was blocked.
Bloomberg also attempted to ban the sale of large sized (over 16oz.) sugary drink sales at city-run venues—the city freaked out! People of all political leanings said they didn’t need to be told what they can or cannot purchase. Jon Stewart and Colbert poked fun at the ban and the Center for Consumer Freedom, a food industry PR group, ran a full-page ad labeling the Mayor an unwanted nanny.
There wasn’t a grass roots political movement that sprouted up with citizens protesting on the streets. Nobody stormed city hall demanding their right to purchased giant tubs of soda. Consumers said they’d just buy two smaller containers if they wanted extra soda. Companies, however, stood to lose large sums of money and claimed the program was unfair and un-American.
Food vouchers in the hands of low income people—especially kids—means they are spending money they otherwise wouldn’t have had. If a person is poor, they’re apt to stretch their dollar by purchasing cheap, processed foods that have a longer shelf life. Large food companies make good money off the EBT program and they’ll try to stop anyone from taking dollars out of their pockets.
Double Edged Fork
People pay taxes. The government gives food vouchers to the poor. The poor use the vouchers to buy processed food products that are often nutrition-less or nutrition-low. The poor end up needing health care that they cannot afford. People claim the poor are dragging them down. Politicians cut health care for the poor. The same people who complain that their tax money supports the poor also fight for the food industry’s right to sell sugary junk food to the poor. The poor continue to consume junk food. Round and round it goes…