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Oh, SNAP!

Posted on: October 22, 2013

The recent malfunction of the EBT system (food stamps) sparked some discussion among my friends and associates. It occurred when I expressed dismay that many of the comments on Twitter mocking the people who would now not get “free food” were from individuals with lots of “Christian” stuff on their profiles. I was trying to square that with all of their other exhortations to be their brother’s keeper and What Would Jesus Do. It wasn’t any sense that they disagreed with a program that feeds hungry kids that struck me; it was the seeming glee with which they did it. Which got me to wondering why we have no trouble offering enormous tax breaks and financial aid to corporations, to freaking baseball and football teams who might build a stadium, to other nations, to BANKS!! But god forbid we offer financial assistance to actual living, breathing human people who might be poorer than us

I think it is because those other recipients of our national welfare system can somehow show a return on investment, which somehow makes them worthy. So the ball club will hire 200 people and offer construction jobs. The banks will perhaps not plunge us into a worldwide depression. The other nations will have our backs in volatile regions of the world and perhaps not send anyone to bomb us here. I get it.

But poor people?! Poor people?! Oh, hell no! Not unless they are the Right Kind of Poor Person. Because here in America we like our Poors to be Bob Cratchit Poors. The kind that are noble, decent, living hand to mouth–and not at all to be mistaken for us. We require our poor people to live in Dickensian squalor in order for us to find them worthy of our help. We can’t countenance them having (gasp!) a car or (oh noes!!!) a cell phone, because that means that they are trying to be like us–only, we PAY OUR OWN WAY. Right? Because, of course, if a person getting food assistance has a car or a cell phone, they are obviously gaming the system and cheating us all. And why do those poor kids have candy bars?! Hey kid, you are POOR. You do NOT get candy! MY KIDS get candy because I WORK for that candy. YOU do NOT get candy because you need to know your place.

Brother, please.

SNAP is not welfare. It is a nutrition assistance program for low-income, disabled and elderly individuals. Even if you have seen–as you and every FOX News viewer swears you have–families with 12 kids pushing their shopping carts full of cigarettes and beer up to the cashier, they aren’t–they cannot be–paying for those items with the EBT card. The EBT card does not pay for those items, nor would the store be able to allow it.

85% of all SNAP recipients live well under the poverty level of $22,350 for a family of four. The majority of people using SNAP are elderly, disabled, currently employed at low-wage jobs or temporarily unemployed. They are not hordes of illegal immigrants coming here to steal the Velveeta out of YOUR child’s mouth. Not even if your grandma’s email chain letter said so.
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The level of fraud and abuse of SNAP is extremely low. Overpayments last year were at 3%, a good deal of which was due to clerical errors rather than fraud; 1/5 of which was due to UNDERpayments. Now, you can go research other forms of assistance we might give to Americans in need and report back on them, but the Congressional Budget Office’s numbers show SNAP to be one program that is rather efficiently run. Limits on those eligible are already tight. Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents have a 3-month limit for any three year period. Benefits are structured to provide incentive to work: for every extra dollar a recipient earns, they receive only 24-36 cents less rather than the full dollar, thereby not disincentivizing higher-paying employment.

My point being that we can have a rational discussion about entitlement programs in America. We can have a rational discussion about the efficacy and efficiency of said programs. We can have a rational discussion about any policy aimed at helping the poor. But we cannot have that discussion if one of us thinks it’s funny that kids won’t eat today. We cannot have that discussion if one of us thinks our religion is against feeding hungry people. Please show me this religion if you can find it. More importantly, and personally for me, we cannot have that discussion if one of us thinks we know everything there is to know about another human by what we see in a grocery store line.

People you probably cannot imagine ever having been on food stamps (cough cough) have been on food stamps. While one parent worked. And carted her three kids to the store. No doubt to the stares of people wondering why they have to pay for those three mouths to eat when that lady looks plenty able-bodied. And then getting into their late-model Subaru all pleased as punch to be defrauding the good people of America. Never once imagining they were driving home in a second-hand paid off car, to their disabled father, lying in a bed in the house they would surely lose if not for the fact of food stamps helping with the grocery bill.

So no. We cannot have that discussion until we both acknowledge that we know NOTHING about another person, another family, another fellow human in a grocery store. Except for the fact that even poor people deserve some respect, some privacy in their financial transactions–and hell, maybe even a candy bar.

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1 Response to "Oh, SNAP!"

I highly recommend the book “The Working Poor.” Excellent read. The cycle of poverty is hard to break and not “easy” as many middle Americans and upper middle think.

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