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David P. Smith: The Broken SNAP
Friday, January 04, 2013 12:11 PM

Much debate is occurring regarding governmental spending in the United States for a wide array of programs.  There are many solutions being proffered for reducing the overspending and everything must be examined in the process.  Every program in place has objectives that can be measured to see if the specific program is meeting those objectives while also assessing for other effects of the program that may not have been initially anticipated.  Each of us certainly does that in our own households. We look at what we are spending on a particular area and decide if the purpose of it is being fulfilled while also deciding how that expense is affecting otherwise the household.  Then we make changes depending upon what we find when we assess it.  It is certainly beyond the scope of this article to examine the entire topic, so we will have to focus a little more on one major area of expense.  A major expense in most households is that of buying food.

One can spend a lot of money buying food or it can be less of an expense depending upon what is bought. I remember when I was in college and later, during medical school, I had to make the money I had last for quite a while.  Therefore, I had to budget out what I knew I would have for food expenses and I would stay under a certain monthly amount which wasn’t much.  If I bought a more expensive food item, I couldn’t afford to get other needed items.  I never went hungry, but I couldn’t buy everything I wanted by any means either.  There was not much meat bought except canned tuna and getting anything that had a brand name on it was a luxury. When it’s your own money, you examine things more carefully and buy what is truly needed.  This is a lesson that our federal government does not seem to know; leaders in all parties know how to spend more to appease whom they want to vote for them.  There isn’t much thought regarding what is actually being accomplished or effectively examining the other effects of their spending of other people’s money.  Just as much as I would be careful and analyze what I am spending along with assessing the nutritional value of what is in my own food budget, the government should be doing the same thing. However, they aren’t doing this in the manner that they should. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP; used to be called food stamps) is out of control.  The SNAP has broken.

The SNAP program, as reported by the USDA, has expanded from serving 26 million people in 2007 to the current level of almost 45 million people with expenses increasing, respectively, from $3.6 billion per month to $6.2 billion per month. Obesity rates are continuing to climb while the public is asked to believe that the amount spent on SNAP is justified.  In the last week of time, I have heard two different personal testimonies of witnessing SNAP payments being approved for a cake maker who got over $800 for a wedding cake for one recipient while another person buys large quantities of meat with SNAP money and then that meat is sold for cash from an ice chest on the street.  The state of Mississippi recently reported that there were possibly $2.7 million in fraudulent benefits paid with 1,705 people disqualified during the last budget year due to these discovered improper payments.  In 2000, about 10% of the Mississippi population was on the program while now it is 23% of the population.  The statistics regarding fraudulent payments in Mississippi also reflect the same problem on a national scale.

While there is plenty of evidence of trafficking of EBT cards along with other fraud, there is other waste occurring in this program that is supposed to be helping the poor who are truly deprived of the ability to buy food.  I can remember when it was shameful to even have to get something free from the government during the days of “commodities” that certainly were not what we think of today when that term is used.  People were given staple foods that were truly needed and not allowed to choose such extravagant food items that people who earned the money can hardly afford.  If one needs a lesson on this, just visit your grocery store around the first week of the month and notice how the buggy loads of expensive meats are being purchased.  While there are attempts to educate people with regard to what they should be eating and this makes sense that efforts should be made to help people understand what they should eat, many already know this information and still choose to eat in unhealthy ways.  There should be some changes made in regard to how the money given to people on EBT cards is allowed to be spent so that healthy choices are encouraged in a more direct manner.  An $800 wedding cake on an EBT card – give me a break!  At the rate of inflation for groceries, it won’t be long before greater numbers forget trying to get a break – give me a SNAP card!  It appears that there is no shame in taking from others anymore and, for many, it’s not improving their health, but worsening it.

 

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