What began in 1964 as an attempt to assuage the pain and hunger of a small percentage of American families in great need has morphed into a twisted political abomination. Today, nearly one out of every seven Americans is eligible to collect from the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides necessary food items to those in need. Compare this to those eligible for the predecessor to the current SNAP legislation, the original Food Stamp Act of 1964 — a meager one out of 50 Americans.
Surprisingly, this remarkable increase in government handouts is not accompanied by statistics that support the need for such a growth in welfare expenditure. In 1964, $75 million was appropriated to the Food Stamp Act, with the nation’s poverty rate (the percentage of Americans below the poverty line) at about 18 percent. Today, the United States spends approximately $75 billion annually — notice the change, please — with the poverty rate clocked at 15.1 percent in 2010.
This doesn’t make sense to me. Why has food stamp expenditure multiplied out of control, while the American poverty rate has remained somewhat stable?
I may not have the empirical answer, but here’s something: Food and hunger agencies at both the state and national level have been working to increase SNAP participation in America. Citing worries about proper nutrition in American families, they have been working to expand their constituent base by many different means. Television advertisements encouraging SNAP enrollment have been aired on more than one occasion, for example. It is natural for bureaucratic agencies to pursue growth, but to seek an increase in welfare expenditure? Someone is not looking at the big picture here.
Furthermore, eligibility for SNAP funding is getting easier and easier to attain. Many states have blanket-consent legislation, allowing those who apply for other aid to automatically receive food stamps. Reports of states giving out $1 checks of aid to families, allowing them easier access to nutritional assistance funding, are widespread, something I see as problematic.
The biggest kicker here is that states receive bonus money from the federal government for increased levels of SNAP participation. Apparently, increased dependence upon federal aid and welfare programs is an incentivized process.
Growth of poverty in America should be fought, not encouraged. We should all have the opportunity to support ourselves and have enough money for three square meals a day. If that is too difficult, then I have no qualms with the American government providing temporary relief to those in need.
And that is just what food stamps should be — a temporary fix. Perpetuating a system in which a large portion of the population remains dependent upon the government handing out grocery money is not a sound fiscal plan for any nation, regardless of wealth or status.
With our country in the middle of a budget crisis, this kind of irresponsibility cannot be ignored. Serious reform is needed for SNAP, with a larger focus on food stamps being an emergency plan and more emphasis placed on providing the U.S. population with the means to feed themselves. An old saying comes to mind here: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Reach opinion columnist Joshua Waugh at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @joshawaugh
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