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Making It A ‘SNAP’ For Anyone To Get Food Stamps May Not Be Best Policy

The United States Department of Agriculture has been running radio commercials encouraging people to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, the new name for food stamps.

The commercials promote “eating right” and, specifically, point out that recipients can get fresh fruits and vegetables with the program.

We appreciate the plug, and the industry worked hard to get fresh produce included, but we have to wonder if this kind of promotion is really a good thing.

The commercial points out that one may qualify for the program even though one has a job, owns a car and owns a home. In fact, though the commercial doesn’t say it, one can have a million dollars in a Roth IRA and another million dollars in home equity and still qualify because retirement funds and home ownership are both exempt from consideration in calculating who qualifies.

We appreciate the idea to feed the bodies of poor people and we begrudge helping out no one, but we can’t help but think that whatever its impact on the body, this attempt to expand food stamp usage can’t be good for the soul.

There are a lot of struggling people who can hold their heads high because they managed to take care of their own. These commercials are attempts to erase the stigma of accepting food aid, but we suspect that people know if they are getting welfare or not, and if they are, no amount of upbeat commercials will make them feel good about themselves.

There has been much written about lower income males, often not educated or skilled, may not be able to contribute much income to a family. If their contribution is made superfluous because it can easily be replaced by programs like SNAP, the men themselves will be seen as superfluous and you’ll have more broken families and more children growing up without fathers present — a situation far more likely to lead to delinquency than an in-tact home.

William F. Buckley, Jr. once advanced the idea of having available to all, without income limitations, public pantries that would provide staples such as bread, milk and peanut butter. Probably not too many rich people would bother to get the free goods, especially if we carefully controlled the locations of the public pantries to make them inconvenient to affluent areas.

Yet the fact that anyone could access the pantries, much like they can access a public library or a public park, would eliminate the stigma and thus encourage healthy eating without putting people on welfare and without rewarding a family with extra money because their income goes down when a man abandons his family.

In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the poor milkman and father of five daughters, speaks to God:

“Dear Lord, you made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, that it’s no great shame to be poor. But it’s no great honor either! So, what would have been so terrible if I had a small fortune?”

What is missing from these commercials is any notion that this should be some short term help until someone gets on their feet or that one should organize their affairs by, say, considering if they can afford another child before they have one. There is no notion that an adult should not be depending on charity to eat.

In the short run, we suppose that a family that gets extra food from a program like this is healthier. We wonder though, if long term, the family that eats cabbage soup and mac and cheese for awhile doesn’t wind up being more prosperous as the children see an example of self-reliance and making do and as the family values the contributions that each family member can make.

You can listen to the radio spot here:

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