Tag: food stamps

Food Stamps Cut?

Prior to last week’s passage of another $26 billion in bailout money for state and local governments, I noted that the legislation wasn’t really offset:

Congressional Democrats say the measure is paid for with a combination of spending cuts elsewhere and tax increases. However, the new spending is front loaded and much of the spending cuts wouldn’t be realized until after 2013. For example, the Congressional Budget Office’s score of the legislation shows savings from the food stamps program of $12 billion from 2014-2018. Congress can come back any time before that and rescind the cuts.

It’s typical Beltway budgetary sleight-of-hand: increase spending up front and “cut” spending on the back-end to get a more deficit-friendly score from the CBO. Democrats don’t really intend to see these cuts actualized, and have indicated as much. That hasn’t stopped media outlets from across the ideological spectrum from running sensationalist headlines.

A headline from CBS News says “Food Stamps Slashed to Pay for Teachers Job Bill.” A hysterical headline at the leftish Huffington Post reads “Cutting Food Stamps to Save Teacher Jobs: A Hateful Trade-off.” And a headline on the conservative Human Events website claims “Democrats Rob Food Stamps to Pay Teachers.”

Adding to the heat is legislation moving through Congress that would “cut” future food stamps spending to help pay for increased child nutrition programs. But as was the case with the bailout legislation, the only change that’s being proposed is to move forward the expiration date for the temporary food stamp expansion contained in the 2009 stimulus bill.

In addition to unnecessary hand-wringing over the future, the near past is all but being ignored. As the following chart shows, the cost of the food stamps programs has exploded over the decade thanks to the recession and benefit increases under presidents Bush and Obama:

The food stamps program needs to be cut. In fact, the entire federal welfare system needs to be devolved to the states, or preferably, private charity. That phantom cuts following a massive increase in food stamps spending would cause such angst indicates that those of us who believe the needy aren’t best served by Uncle Sam have our work cut out.

Food Stamps on Campus

Food stamp usage is on an upsurge as a result of the economic downturn and liberalized eligibility. Thanks to some good journalistic work from Aleksandra Kulczuga of the Daily Caller, we’re getting a better picture of how government dependency is spreading to a new generation.

Kulczuga reports that college students are increasingly going on the dole thanks to encouragement from college officials and poverty organizations dedicated to fomenting government dependency.

From the article:

Adam Sylvain, a sophomore at Virginia’s George Mason University, recounted a recent conversation with friends in his dorm room. “My roommate told me he applied for food stamps, and they told him he qualified for $200 a month in benefits,” Sylvain said. “He’s here on scholarship and he saves over $5,000 each summer in cash.”

“A few of our other friends who were in the room also said if there were able to, they would get food stamps … They think that if they’re eligible it’s the government’s fault, so they might as well,” Sylvain said.

Students at GMU can buy a meal plan for $1,275 that provides 10 meals a week for the semester — that’s $71 a week.

When I was in college, my friends and I worked during the school year and through the summer to fund our expenses. My father worked multiple jobs to pay his way through college while supporting a young wife. He grew up in a family headed by a single mother that relied on extended family and charities to help them through tough times. He may have been eligible for food stamps in college, but he would have never taken a government handout.

Today’s generation seems to be different. This Salon article tells of unemployed college grads using food stamps to purchase organic food at high-end grocers like Whole Foods.

From the article:

At Magida’s brick row house in Baltimore, she and Mak minced garlic while observing that one of the upsides of unemployment was having plenty of time to cook elaborate meals, and that among their friends, they had let go of any bad feelings about how their food was procured.

“It’s not a thing people feel ashamed of, at least not around here,” said Mak. “It feels like a necessity right now.”

Savory aromas wafted through the kitchen as a table was set with a heaping plate of Thai yellow curry with coconut milk and lemongrass, Chinese gourd sautéed in hot chile sauce and sweet clementine juice, all of it courtesy of government assistance.

Remember that many of these students probably had their college educations subsidized by the government as well.

Food Stamp Price Tag Rising

Food stamp usage is at record levels according to the New York Times, with one in eight Americans now receiving benefits. There are several reasons for the upswing, including expanded eligibility in the 2000s and the severe economic downturn. The following chart shows the dramatic rise in spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as the Food Stamp program until 2008 when Congress changed its name to sound more palatable.

Most Americans think that we should aid those in real need, but individuals should do so voluntarily without resorting to forced government transfers.

The Times gives three examples of people who recently started receiving food aid. Each offers some food for thought.

The first is a 45 year-old Harlem widow with an annual income of $15,000. A food bank had encouraged her to apply for the benefits:

A big woman with a broad smile, Ms. Bostick-Thomas swept into the group’s office a few days later, talking up her daughters’ college degrees and bemoaning the cost of oxtail meat. “I’m not saying I go hungry,” Ms. Bostick-Thomas said. “But I can’t always eat what I want.” The worker projected a benefit of $147 a month. “That’s going to help!” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone and applied on my own.”

I don’t know this woman’s exact circumstances, and there’s no reason to doubt she needs assistance. But aren’t her college-educated daughters in a position to help their mother? Government welfare undermines the traditional role the family played in mutual assistance.

Here’s the second example:

Juan Diego Castro, 24, is a college graduate and Americorps volunteer whose immigrant parents warned him “not to be a burden on this country.” He has a monthly stipend of about $2,500 and initially thought food stamps should go to needier people, like the tenants he organizes. “My concern was if I’m taking food stamps and I have a job, is it morally correct?” he said.

But federal law eases eligibility for Americorps members, and a food bank worker urged him and fellow volunteers to apply, arguing that there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need. “That meeting definitely turned us around,” Mr. Castro said.

This fellow’s annualized monthly stipend is more than I made in my first job in Washington. And for Mr. Castro, who was warned not to be a burden on this country, he ought to be told that the federal Americorps program is exactly that. But more disconcerting is the fact that the food bank worker urged him and his colleagues to go the dole in order to advertise it.

This anecdote illustrates Michael Tanner’s argument that government poverty programs serve vested interests:

Among the non-poor with a vital interest in anti-poverty programs are social workers and government employees who administer the programs. Thus, anti-poverty programs are usually more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of the bureaucracy than with fighting poverty.

The last example from the Times is a Colombian immigrant who missed three months of work as a janitor because she fell and had to have knee surgery:

Last November, she limped into a storefront church in Queens, where a food bank worker was taking applications beside the pews.

About her lost wages, she struck a stoic pose, saying her san cocho — Colombian soup — had less meat and more plantains. But her composure cracked when she talked of the effect on her 10-year-old daughter. “My refrigerator is empty,” Ms. Catano said.

Last month, Ms. Catano was back at work, with a benefit of $170 a month and no qualms about joining 38 million Americans eating with government aid. “I had the feeling that working people were not eligible,” she said. “But then they told me, ‘No, no, the program has improved.’”

This is precisely the sort of person that is deserving of charity. But the federal government isn’t a charity; it is a forced transfer machine. The less fortunate, and society as a whole, would be better off if the taxes paid to support inefficient, counterproductive government programs were instead left in the hands of supportive individuals and organizations.

See this essay for more on government food subsidies.

The Federal Government Is Bribing States to Create More Welfare Dependency?!?

If you want to get depressed or angry, the New York Times has an article celebrating the effort by politicians at all levels of government to lure more people into the food stamp program. New York City is running ads in foreign languagues asking people to stick their snouts in the public trough. The City is even signing up prisoners when they get out of jail. The state of New York, meanwhile, actually set up quotas for enrolling new recipients. And on the federal level, there apparently is a program that gives states “bonuses” for putting more people on the dole. No wonder one out of every eight Americans is receiving food stamps. By the way, this is not just the fault of Democrats. The ranking Republican on the Agriculture Committee is a big defender of the program, in part because of the sordid pact among urban and rural politicians to support each other’s handouts. And President George W. Bush’s food stamp administrator actually had the gall to assert “food stamps is not welfare.” No wonder the burden of federal spending skyrocketed during the reign of so-called compassionate conservatism. The correct policy, of course, is to get the federal government out of the welfare business. If Mayor Bloomberg thinks it is a “civic duty” to expand food stamps, he should see whether New York City voters agree with him - and want to foot the bill.

A decade ago, New York City officials were so reluctant to give out food stamps, they made people register one day and return the next just to get an application. The welfare commissioner said the program caused dependency and the poor were “better off” without it. Now the city urges the needy to seek aid (in languages from Albanian to Yiddish). Neighborhood groups recruit clients at churches and grocery stores, with materials that all but proclaim a civic duty to apply — to “help New York farmers, grocers, and businesses.” There is even a program on Rikers Island to enroll inmates leaving the jail. “Applying for food stamps is easier than ever,” city posters say. …These changes, combined with soaring unemployment, have pushed enrollment to record highs, with one in eight Americans now getting aid. “I’ve seen a remarkable shift,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican and prominent food stamp supporter. “People now see that it’s necessary to have a strong food stamp program.” …The program has commercial allies, in farmers and grocery stores, and it got an unexpected boost from President George W. Bush, whose food stamp administrator, Eric Bost, proved an ardent supporter. “I assure you, food stamps is not welfare,” Mr. Bost said in a recent interview. Still, some critics see it as welfare in disguise and advocate more restraints. …The federal government now gives bonuses to states that enroll the most eligible people. …In 2008, the program got an upbeat new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. …Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office eight years ago, the rolls have doubled, to 1.6 million people… Albany made a parallel push to enroll the working poor, setting an explicit goal for caseload growth. “This is all federal money — it drives dollars to local economies,” said Russell Sykes, a senior program official. But Mr. Turner, now a consultant in Milwaukee, warns that the aid encourages the poor to work less and therefore remain in need. “It’s going to be very difficult with large swaths of the lower middle class tasting the fruits of dependency to be weaned from this,” he said.

Food Stamps = Economic Driver?

It’s become standard fare for senior government leaders to declare that any and all subsidies are good for economic growth. Two weeks ago it was the Economic Development Administration’s John Fernandez. This week it’s USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

From GovExec.com:

In his speech, Vilsack called the increase in supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits “an economic driver” that helps truckers, grocery stores and farmers. Those benefits, which used to be known as food stamps, have gotten the most funding of any USDA program.

Vilsack also cited increased funding to bring high-speed Internet service to rural America; accelerated implementation of the energy title of the farm bill; and USDA investments in small, local processing and slaughtering plants for “creating a framework for a 21st century America.

Food stamps are an economic driver? Extending Vilsack’s logic, if the government put all citizens on food stamps it would create the economic equivalent of heaven on earth. There’s just one tiny problem: what the government gives with one hand it takes with the other.

Whether it is food stamps, high-speed internet, or slaughter houses, the government has to tax or borrow the resources to pay for these programs out of the private sector economy. One can debate the merits of these programs, but one cannot deny that they come at a cost. And with history and practical experience as a guide, it is clear that the private sector is more effective than the government when it comes to feeding the poor, fostering technology, and processing animals.

See here for information and essays on how to downsize the USDA.

Federal Subsidy Programs Top 2,000!

January 22, 2010 is a day that should live in infamy, at least among believers in limited government. On that day, the federal government added its 2,000th subsidy program for individuals, businesses, or state and local governments.

The number of federal subsidy programs soared 21 percent during the 1990s and 40 percent during the 2000s. The entire nation is jumping aboard Washington’s gravy train. My assistant, Amy Mandler, noticed the recent addition of two new Department of Justice programs, and that pushed us over the threshold to reach 2,001.

There is a federal subsidy program for every year that has passed since Emperor Augustus held sway in Rome. We’ve gone from bread and circuses to food stamps, the National Endowment for the Arts, and 1,999 other hand-out programs from the imperial city on the Potomac.

Figure 1 shows that the number of federal subsidy programs has almost doubled since the mid-1980s after some modest cutbacks under President Ronald Reagan.

Most people are aware that federal spending is soaring, but the federal government is also increasing the scope of its activities, intervening in many areas that used to be left to state governments, businesses, charities, and individuals. To measure the widening scope, Figure 1 uses the program count from current and past editions of the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. The CFDA is an official compilation of all federal aid programs, including grants, loans, insurance, scholarships, and other types of benefits.

Figure 2 shows the number of subsidy programs listed in the CFDA by federal department. It is a rough guide to the areas in society in which the government is most in violation of federalism—the constitutional principle that the federal government ought not to encroach on activities that are properly state, local, and private.

As the federal octopus extends its tentacles ever further, state governments are becoming no more than regional subdivisions of the national government, businesses and nonprofit groups are becoming tools of the state, and individualism is giving way to a more European desire for cradle-to-grave dependency.

Yet recent election results indicate that Americans may be starting to wake up and fight back. Whether we are more successful than Cicero and Cato the Younger in battling to retain our limited-government republic remains to be seen.

Food Stamps vs. Cash Welfare

A couple of weeks ago I discussed a New York Times report on soaring food stamp use. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that cash welfare use in New York under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program started to rise more recently. The Times calls this “something of a riddle” given that food stamp usage has been increasing throughout the recession.

But the Times solves the riddle when it acknowledges: “It is much simpler to receive food stamps than cash assistance.” The 1996 welfare reform that replaced the broken Aid for Families with Dependent Children with TANF imposed more stringent time limits and work requirements on recipients. By contrast, the 2002 farm bill expanded food stamp eligibility, increased benefits, and made it easier to claim benefits. The following chart shows the result:

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A food stamp user interviewed by the Times explains:

“It used to be easier to go on cash assistance,” she said as she left a food stamp office in Brooklyn this month. “You didn’t have to go to work, you didn’t have to report every day to an office and sign in and sign out. Now, if you don’t go to those group job meetings in the mornings, they shut down your whole welfare case. So that’s why I just get food stamps.”

In the Times article on food stamps, the USDA official in charge of the program was reportedly happy that usage was up and even wanted to see continued growth. The new article quotes an advocate for government welfare programs with similar feelings on cash welfare:

“It should be considered a positive thing and a natural thing as we start to head into a 10 percent overall unemployment rate in New York,” said David R. Jones, the president and chief executive of the Community Service Society, one of the city’s oldest social services agencies for low-income people. “If unemployment rates continue to spiral upward in New York, and you didn’t see an increase in welfare, something would be seriously wrong. That would mean that we weren’t getting people on relief quickly enough.”

The Community Service Society’s website says its mission “is to identify problems which create a permanent poverty class in New York City, and to advocate the systemic changes required to eliminate such problems.” But the federal welfare system has created a permanent poverty class.

Michael Tanner got it right in his book, The Poverty of Welfare, that government officials and welfare activists have a vested interest in these programs:

Whatever the intention behind government programs, they are soon captured by special interests. The nature of government is such that programs are almost always implemented in a way to benefit those with a vested interest in them rather than to actually achieve the programs’ stated goals. Among the non-poor with a vital interest in anti-poverty programs are social workers and government employees who administer the programs. Thus, anti-poverty programs are usually more concerned with protecting the prerogatives of the bureaucracy than with fighting poverty.