An article from Suffolk, VA came to my attention on my Facebook page this weekend. It was about how Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) aka food stamp use has nearly doubled in that area since the beginning of the economic downtown in 2007. We also had announced last week that the US Department of Agriculture was recommending “food stamp parties” to target seniors into enrolling in the program.

“Throw a Great Party. Host social events where people mix and mingle,” the agency advises. “Make it fun by having activities, games, food, and entertainment, and provide information about SNAP. Putting SNAP information in a game format like BINGO, crossword puzzles, or even a ‘true/false’ quiz is fun and helps get your message across in a memorable way.”

This “food stamp party” idea is an addition to other advertising campaigns going on across the country to increase enrollment. The results of this advertising have been very clear:

In the 1970s, one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today one our of every seven receive the benefit. After the recession, the ratio is expected to hover around one out of every nine, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The USDA even promotes the food stamp program as economic stimulus:
“Every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates $9.20 in an additional community spending,” the USDA contends in their outreach guidance. “If the national participation rate rose five percentage points, 1.9 million more low-income people would have an additional $1.3 billion in benefits per year to use to purchase healthy food and $2.5 billion total in new economic activity would be generated nationwide.”
So instead of being a safety net for those truly in need, the USDA appears to be promoting the food stamp program to people who probably don’t necessarily need it and is even promoting it as an economic stimulus package. We need to examine who else benefits from food stamps, other than the recipients themselves.
USDA and state government employees
This one is easy. SNAP is the largest single item in the USDA’s total overall budget at over $75 billion in 2011. Keeping the program keeps thousands of people employed by the Federal government and by state governments, who administer the program. If the program actually decreased enrollment by encouraging people to become more self-sufficient, some of these bureaucrats may not be needed.
Vendors
In order to help persuade more and more Americans to enroll in the program, the government hires advertising firms to launch ad campaigns. Plus, non-profit organizations aid the USDA in outreach as well. Again, if the program was a genuine safety net instead of an entitlement, these ad firms would have to earn a living in the free market instead of plundering taxpayers.
Politicians
For obvious reasons. This program is like all government welfare programs, a vote buying scheme. All they have to do is scare recipients into believing their opponents will take their benefits away.
Supermarkets and Big Agribusiness
The obvious beneficiaries. This is a backdoor bailout for supermarkets by giving them over $72 billion in free money from the Federal government. But ultimately, this is yet another $72 billion+ subsidy for Big Agribusiness, on top of the billions they already receive from the Federal government.
What Should Be Done?
SNAP should be phased out because there is no Constitutional justification for it and because, ultimately, it is a state and private responsibility. It should be done over a four year period beginning with the freezing of the SNAP budget and block granting it to the States. The next year, the budget is reduced by a fourth and so on until it is eliminated. During that time, state governments would devise and fund their own programs to fill the gap that eliminating SNAP would leave and more importantly, it would be tailored to meet their own individual needs.
Ultimately, we as a nation need to get back to one of our core principles of self-reliance, while at the same time we need to get back to idea of helping people in need in our communities ourselves instead of outsourcing it to the government.
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