Food Stamp Program Now Facing Two-Pronged Assault

Almost two months ago, I wrote a post about the assault on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), more commonly known by its original name, Food Stamps. Recent days have revealed more details about the ruling classes' actual strategy in doing so, from both "conservative" and "liberal" directions. 

First the conservative one. Congresscritter and former VP candidate Paul Ryan has written a proposal to convert the  SNAP program into a block grant, as succinctly described by Stacy Dean at Huffpo. It's pretty straight forward. The program would be cut by $125 to $135 billion over five years, and would be a gradual thing. I speculate this approach is intended to keep these insidious cuts under the radar as much as possible. The cuts could be accomplished in two ways, as Dean describes quite well:

 

If the cuts came solely from restricting eligibility, 12 to 13 million people would need to be cut from the program.

If the cuts came solely from across-the-board benefit cuts, benefits would have to be cut by more than $50 per person per month in 2019 (for a family of three, that's $1,800 over the whole year).  Put another way, the maximum SNAP benefit would be set at just 73 percent of the Thrifty Food Plan, the Agriculture Department's estimate of the minimum amount a family needs to afford a bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet.

So, either 12 to 13 million Americans, mostly children, will lose their benefits entirely, or millions more will lose one-fourth of their food budget. If you're a single parent with two kids, losing $150/month in food stamps is a Very Big Deal. 

But never fear! The other faction of the ruling class has less evil alternatives. 

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine(PCRM) has a lengthy, all so medically and politically correct proposal  to restrict SNAP benefits to "simple set of healthful foods," which translates to allowing only grains, vegetables, beans, fruits and some multiple vitamins to be purchased with SNAP benefits. No meat, no milk, no cheese and, of course, no junk food whatsoever shall be provided to America's working poor by the overstressed taxpayer, and it's all for poor people's own good! 

How magnificently liberal. That fanatical vegetarian, Adolf Hitler, would certainly approve. 

Of course, as usual, liberals and even neo-liberals are a bit divided on this issue. Charles Lane writes in the Pravda on the Potomac that he thinks the PCRM is going a little bit too far, perhaps fish, poultry and lean red meat should still be allowed to America's working poor, but "junk food" should never be paid for by the taxpayers. At the very least, soda pop should be excluded. 

I have a problem with that, and it's the camel's nose in the tent problem. At first glance, it seems common-sensical and my initial, kneejerk reaction was to to think it's a good idea. But. If soda pop is prohibited from being purchased with SNAP, what's next? Potato chips? Well, they're bad, so OK. Then what? Anything with high sodium content? Fatty meat? All red meat? Whole milk?Where does it end? 

A more glaring flaw in the more liberal, surely lesser evil than Paul Ryan approach is that it does nothing to address the cost of these nutritious foods. The main reason the working poor buy not so healthy foods isn't because they don't want them, it's because they can't afford them. When whole grain bread is 4 bucks a loaf but the cheaper processed store brand bread is less than a buck a loaf what is someone on a SNAP budget going to buy? You only get one guess.

So. If you restrict what SNAP can purchase, you actually reduce the amount of food the working poor can buy with their current level of benefits. Anyone who shops at grocery stores and notices the prices of different types of food can figure that out with very little mathematical effort. For example, the other day my wife bought a turnip at a grocery store. Cost? $1.19. For one turnip.  

Should the government subsidize fruits and veggies to drive down costs? Should it(gasp!) actually increase SNAP benefits to enable the working poor to buy these healthy foods? This isn't even addressed. Of course, in these tight budgetary times, it can't even be considered. I can easily see President Obama embracing this approach as part of a grand bargain to balance the budget. His wife would certainly campaign for it. 

I can see it now: President Obama solemnly intoning, "The other side wants to just cut food assistance for hardworking Americans who need a little help. My approach is to insure that they eat healthier, not just eat less." 

Even though they would be eating less, but what's one more lie to this lying sack of corporatist slime of a President? It sounds good, and just look at Michelle's arms! Look at their beautiful children! I can already hear the gushing Obamaphiles. Besides, since people like Lane are already saying that SNAP has become just another subsidy for Big Agra, wouldn't it feel so good to stick it to them by cutting or restricting SNAP? It's not about reducing caloric intake for poor people, it's about hitting Big Agra in the pocketbook! 

I can also hear a few of you saying, "Well, Barbarian, what's your superior socialist solution?" OK, here are a couple of ideas. 

The national government can establish a chain of accessible grocery stores across the country that will sell only good quality food at substantially discounted prices to all Americans. The purpose of these stores will be just that, and the government will own and operate them by paying good wages to these new federal employees. There can be an emphasis on purchasing meat and produce from local farmers where available. Not only will SNAP recipients have incentive to shop there because their benefits will buy more, but anyone, even Charles Lane or a Responsible Physician, can shop there as well. 

And if the latter really don't want to rub shoulders with the Great Unwashed, well, they still have Whole Foods. And the former, if they still want to buy the junk, can go to a for-profit grocery store and do so. It will be foolish, though, and cost them more. Besides, a full-blown government education campaign in the media will show them the error of their ways. 

Better yet, in addition to establishing new stores, the government can simply nationalize all of the Wal-Mart stores in small towns that now have a near-monopoly in the local grocery markets. The employees can then be paid a true living wage, the small town folks would see their food prices drop and quality increase, the Waltons would get screwed, and that really would give the Barbarian a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

And the money to do all of this wonderful socialist stuff could be entirely financed by ending overseas imperial adventures, bringing our troops home, dismantling most of the military industrial complex, and figuratively turning swords into plowshares. That last could actually be a good argument in many churches. You, know, what would Jesus do? 

I'm not saying this modest proposal has a snowball's chance in a hot hell being implemented by our current government, but I am saying that it definitely can work if it is actually tried, and would be popular to boot. In any case, it's definitely morally superior to the two ideas described above, which just take more from the working classes and enrich a very, very few. 

crossposted at Fire Dog Lake

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I love your idea here:

Glinda's picture

The national government can establish a chain of accessible grocery stores across the country that will sell only good quality food at
substantially discounted prices to all Americans. The purpose of these stores will be just that, and the government will own and operate them by paying good wages to these new federal employees. There can be an emphasis on purchasing meat and produce from local farmers where available. Not only will SNAP recipients have incentive to shop there because their benefits will buy more, but anyone, even Charles Lane or a Responsible Physician, can shop there as well.

And moving away from your very important topic for just a minute, a little rant and pet peeve on my part;
 

and just look at Michelle's arms

My response to that is wtf.  She set a new trend, a stupid one if you ask me.  In fact, the night of the 2010 elections (sorry, I don't have the link at hand), she did not stay up for the results because she had to get up early to workout, her words.

Now all of a sudden professional women on the big three networks and cable all seem to want to show off their arms.  Again I say wtf.

One idiot weather person wears sleeveless dresses while reporting on freezing temperatures and expected snow.  And when the snow does arrive, she interviews traveling anchors reporting on snow, the outside people standing there wearing parkas and boots and the wind blowing and snow barreling down from the sky while the weather "babe" inside in the studio wears a sleeveless dress. ("Babe" comes from "booth babe" at trade shows.)

I blame Michelle.  Seriously.  Not kidding.

 

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Thanks. I understand the bit about Michelle's arms.

Ohio Barbarian's picture

My wife, after all, has been sick of all of the sycophantic chiming about her arms for years. As her husband, I hear about it a LOT, no matter how much I protest that her arms are far more attractive than Michelle's.  

Really! They ARE! Why doesn't anyone believe me?  :)

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Thanks for another great essay

geomoo's picture

So few places to read common sense these days.  I'm really glad you post here.

The most depressing thing, which I usually strive to stress, is that my over-all reaction to this essay is that, if there is picking and choosing what food stamps can buy, and there is enough total revenue in food stamps, then it is a given that eventually, what can be bought will be politically determined.  Even sadder, I can't even imagine the great idea of a chain of stores not being immediately beset by corruption, but I bet it would still be a  net gain over most other ideas.  One Iraqi said, "In Iraq, Americans are famous for corruption."  This fame is well deserved.

The other thing that struck me is the notion that children are receiving "benefits".  Yes, it is the benefit of not starving to death.  This is a great potential solution to a well-described issue.

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No system, be it socialist or capitalist or mercantilist, is...

Ohio Barbarian's picture

perfect and free from corruption. I don't believe there's such a thing as a perfect human society, To paraphrase Gracchus in the old Spartacus movie, I'd rather have a little socialist corruption than the tyranny of the Waltons. 

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I would love healthy fast food drive-throughs.

aigeanta's picture

They would be extremely convenient and already mesh well with America's love of motorized dining. Instead of having to cook all that healthy food myself, which I don't really know how to do that well (whatever happened to home econ classes?), I could outsource both that and the ingredient shopping to the restaurant, which would design menus based on locally available produce, preferably organic. These meals would be available to be purchased with SNAP/Food Stamps and the restaurants would serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know that a lot of people are into promoting slow food, and I think that could certainly be a part of this idea. Maybe even healthy living classes on cooking, and community gardens. Any takers on this modest proposal?

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You might be onto something there, but I don't see how..

Ohio Barbarian's picture

...drive thru or fast food restaurants that actually serve healthy foods would be profitable enough to satisfy the insatiable lust for profit in our existing economic system. Generally, not always, but generally, healthy foods take time to prepare. My understanding is one of the big reasons fast food places serve fatty, preservative-laden food is that such food is cheap to make, ship, store, and very quick to prepare after someone places an order. 

If a fast food place guessed wrong a few times about how much healthy food to prepare ahead of time, it would probably go out of business real quick. Maybe I'm wrong. If I am, I hope someone corrects me. 

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Absolutely.

Glinda's picture

but generally, healthy foods take time to prepare.

Of course they do.  It requires washing the vegetables, peeling, slicing, dicing, sauteeing, cooking, you name it, it ain't easy.

You know what is easy?  Getting in your car (if you're lucky enough to afford a car) and driving to a fast food restaurant and ordering through the speaker.

I would love to be able to order through a "speaker" for healthy foods.  But that doesn't exist now.  And why not?  I have a a guess, but won't comment on that now.

 

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New study underscores importance of nutrition in children

geomoo's picture

 

Underscoring the myopic, penny-wise/pound-foolish notion of cutting foot stamps, scientists (remember them?) have demonstrated a connection between malnutrition during the first year of birth and psychological issues at age 40.

"Compared with peers who were well-fed throughout their lives, formerly malnourished men and women reported markedly more anxiety, vulnerability to stress, hostility, mistrust of others, anger and depression, Galler’s team reports March 12 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Survivors of early malnutrition also cited relatively little intellectual curiosity, social warmth, cooperativeness and willingness to try new experiences and to work hard at achieving goals.

Previous studies of people exposed prenatally to famine have reported increased rates of certain personality disorders and schizophrenia. Another investigation found that malnutrition at age 3 predisposed youngsters on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to delinquent and aggressive behavior at ages 8, 11 and 17."

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