The real attraction of profoundly bad ideas is that they have the quality of seeming logical even when they don’t. They often trigger the “it’s common sense” reflex.
For instance, a lot of conservatives are enamored of term limits. This looks appealing (once you assume away the fact that we do have term limits, we call them “elections”) on the surface. Presumably by stripping away the calcified dinosaurs in Congress we usher in a new age of enlightenment. This proposal never really explains how we get from A to B.
If legislators are not experienced with how bills are written or the subject areas of the bills, then power flows from elected members of Congress to congressional staffers, lobbyists for industry and advocacy groups, and federal bureaucrats. None of whom are term-limited. So for the sugar rush of seeing Thad Cochran turfed out, Congress is reduced to a body that can neither legislate nor provide oversight and, more importantly, you, the citizen, lose the ability to influence legislation.
Another of those truly bad ideas surfaced yesterday.
The Trump administration is proposing to save billions in the coming years by giving low-income families a box of government-picked, nonperishable foods every month instead of food stamps.
The proposal, buried in the White House’s fiscal 2019 budget, would replace about half of the money most families receive via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, with what the Department of Agriculture is calling “America’s Harvest Box.” That package would be made up of “100 percent U.S. grown and produced food” and would include items like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal.
Asked about how delivery would work, USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh clarified that states would “have flexibility” in how they choose to distribute the food to SNAP recipients. In other words, the federal government almost certainly would not be picking up the tab for any type of Amazon-style delivery system. “The projected savings does not include shipping door-to-door for all recipients,” Murtaugh said.
Full disclosure: I am not hostile to the “food stamp” program no matter the guise. I realize that the program, like any program that dispenses cash or cash-like benefits, is subject to fraud and abuse. That is baked in. Right now, in areas of the country, you find food stamp recipients using their benefits to buy dozens of cases of soft drinks which they resell at below wholesale prices to mom-and-pop stores in order to generate cash which can be used for anything. I also believe that the program is necessary and moral.
Having said that, I’m against the infantilization of the poor. Which is what this is. In order to make the poor more virtuous by ensuring they eat the proper diet, we are about to create another federal bureaucracy to buy, assemble, distribute, and account for these boxes. And that bureaucracy will ride on a larger number of state bureaucracies created for the same purpose. What isn’t mentioned is how the federal government will decide which corporations are allowed/brought into the program to provide food.
We also don’t know what foods, in what quantities, will be in these boxes and how the USDA sees addressing the issue of food allergies, dietary restrictions, religious restrictions, and cultural preferences when choosing and distributing products.
If you objected to Michelle Obama’s school lunch travesty, this program should really bother you. Because food isn’t food unless people eat it. Many years ago I was involved in a project on this subject. People receiving food stamps don’t buy the foods proposed for the food box program because of some very logical reasons. (Read the report.) Inevitably, most of the food included in these food boxes will either a) not be eaten or b) resold to small stores or other individuals for a fraction of the value of the product.
The fact that the proposal only saves money if the delivery cost is assumed away should be a red flag. The only way to avoid the delivery cost is by establishing distribution centers. There are 3,142 counties or equivalent governmental bodies in the U.S. How are these to be staffed? How is the real estate procured? How do people get to the distribution centers? Do we really want large numbers of people queued up waiting for food issue? Are we going to actually issue boxes of food…or will this become a government owned and run grocery story? How does a working man who is food stamp eligible get time off from work to draw his allotment? Why would we want to f*** with anyone like this? More importantly, why would we want our government doing this?
I don’t like government. Full stop. I really don’t like a government that treats citizens as subjects and wards. I don’t see where this program improves nutrition, reduces dependency, or restrains the role of government. It has the superficial appeal of saving money and being helpful but that is not how this movie will end.