Radio Free Food Stamps
Food stamps are bad.
That’s what I learned growing up in the 1980s. My parents explained that food stamps helped poor people afford to buy food. And as noble and humane as it is to offer financial assistance to people who need nourishment, it’s not something of which to be proud. Face it, nobody wants to be poor, and indeed there was a stigma attached to food stamps. You felt bad for the people who needed them and hoped their fortunes would brighten so they could provide for themselves. Most importantly, you never wanted to be in their position.
Fewer than 20 million people used food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — in 1985 at a cost of $11.7 billion. Today the number is 46.6 million recipients, and SNAP cost the government $75 billion in Fiscal Year 2011. As someone who was furloughed from his newspaper reporting job three times and relied on New Jersey unemployment benefits to supplement my income during three pay periods in 2009 and 2010, I realize there’s a place for government assistance in society, and I was grateful it was there.
There are people who desperately need food stamps, and just as I felt during my youth in the 1980s, I hope those recipients can get off them as soon as possible. I’m sure many of them take no pleasure in their position to need a government handout.
My problem is with the federal government’s continuing campaign to promote food stamps as a wonderful thing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, has been running radio ads over the past few months featuring a cheerful-sounding grandma who loves playing with her grandchildren. But in order to keep up with those little bundles of energy (who you can hear in the background shouting “Grandma, come on!”) she needs to “stay healthy and eat right!” She regales the listener with information about how food stamp benefits help her when money is tight because of bills and doctor visits. She tells the audience she can afford “all types of food, including fruits and vegetables as mandated by Michelle Obama!” (The fruits and vegetables part is true, I added the last part – it seems plausible.)
CNNMoney reported “More than one in seven Americans are on food stamps, but the federal government wants even more people to sign up for the safety net program.” The story goes on to explain the feds want to encourage – through this $3 million radio ad campaign – eligible people to enroll, and the target audience includes the elderly, working poor, the unemployed and Hispanics. The latter group is being persuaded to apply for food stamps through a series of Spanish soap opera “novellas” on the radio. Ramon is torn! Should he sign up for food stamps? Will Claudia convince him to do so? Tune in next week for episode two of our 10-part series. Seriously, it’s 10 parts. I guess they’re going for character development.
Food stamps should carry a stigma – not to maliciously hurt people’s feelings, but to drum home that prolonged dependence on SNAP can diminish motivation to free one’s self from welfare. The feds should be moving mountains to get as many people off food stamps as soon as possible, not advertising them as cavalierly as the post office pitches commemorative stamps. You might hear people exclaiming, “What’s happening to my country?” It’s legitimate to ask when your government – intentionally or not, and I suspect the former as a means to buy votes – insidiously prods its citizenry to rely on federal bureaucrats for life’s essentials with no apparent plan or desire to wean them off and send them down a pathway toward self-sufficiency.