Good News: Food Stamp Use Soaring; Stigma Gone

Update: The Times piece quoted here skates too quickly over the questions of how one qualifies for food stamps, and what requirements are imposed on recipients (particularly with regard to work). Put briefly, most food stamp recipients appear to be required to work, but waivers exist, some still receive benefits without working, and (of course) fraud dilutes the requirements. Check out the comment section for clarifications.

I suppose this is just a testament to how well Obama’s economic recovery plan is going: 1 in 8 Americans is now on food stamps – and 1 in 4 children are. I remember the bad old days of the Bush economy, when millions of Americans were forced to rely on private sector jobs to pay for their food.

Those benighted days are past: now more and more Americans get their food money from Uncle Sam. And who knows – the way things are going, someday soon we all may wind up on the dole:

It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.

Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare…

From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.

At the rate we’re going, 16 million more people will be on food stamps by the end of Barack Obama’s first term. And don’t worry: the Obama White House is doing its best to make sure that happens:

Although the program is growing at a record rate, the federal official who oversees it would like it to grow even faster.

“I think the response of the program has been tremendous,” said Kevin Concannon, an under secretary of agriculture, “but we’re mindful that there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is disgusting. The measure of a successful administration will be how many Americans don’t rely on food stamps, not how many more can be added to the rolls. It’s stunning that the program would be overseen by someone with so poor an understanding of priorities.

Furthermore, the federal government is making a mistake by imposing no work requirements on receipt of this assistance. Because money is fungible, there is little difference between food stamps (or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) and welfare. While it should be available for those whose subsistence depends on it, it is appropriate to protect the taxpayer interest by imposing a work requirement on those who are able to work.

Indeed, the New York Times even notes that the program has lax requirements:

So far, few elected officials have objected to the program’s growth. Almost 90 percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four). But a minor tempest hit Ohio’s Warren County after a woman drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and cars, she qualified.

Congress is spending tens of billions of dollars annually on this program, and increasing funds dramatically – even as its rate of use is at an all-time high. Is it too much to ask that wealthy Americans not be able to take advantage of loopholes to steal from the taxpayers?

Update: Check out Mickey Kaus’s take on this, as well.

Cross-posted to TheConservatives.com