Wanna Save $4.5 Billion? Fix SNAP.

ebt-cards

OH SNAP!!!

People fall on hard times.  Things happen.  And when things happen it is the responsibility of society to lend a temporary helping hand to those in need.  However, along with the responsibility of society to lend that helping hand comes a responsibility of those being helped to be grateful, appreciative and good stewards of the generosity afforded to them during their difficult chapter in their life.

The Federal government set up the food stamp program for exactly that reason. To help those in need during a difficult transitional period of their life.  Unfortunately, it’s become a program that is bloated beyond it’s original intended purpose that is rife with fraud waste and abuse.  Billions of dollars in waste.

The number of people who are on food stamps ( renamed SNAP) has risen substantially over the past few years to well over 50 million people receiving assistance. With relaxed eligibility requirements more and more people learn they qualify for assistance. From those who really do need it dealing with unemployment at record rates, little to no cost of living increases or raises and underemployment, families are doing the best they can to keep their heads above water.  Many of these families find relief in the SNAP program.  Keeping in mind, there are people who genuinely are in need and who use the program the way it was intended to be used, but more and more, the program is being abused.

The various types of abuse range greatly. From people who simply don’t care where the money comes from, who might feel they are “owed” or “entitled” to something, to merchants who are willing to turn a blind eye in order to get their share of the money, to people who live their entire life on the program and lead their own children into the same cycle of poverty, there is no denying that SNAP needs an overhaul and better management in order to make sure that those who really need the help are getting it and those who are simply using it as a crutch don’t.

Out of all the different types of abuse, the worst problem is that our government doesn’t manage the program efficiently.  In fact, in recent years, it would appear as though they are intentionally ignoring the problems in an effort to push people onto the program.

Either way, the bottom line is the government doesn’t like to make people “feel bad” or “stigmatize” the poor. So rather than address and fix the problems they ignore them and make them worse.  Is this intentional?  Who knows?  But it doesn’t matter…it’s happening and their failure to address them will only end badly.

As far as not wanting to stigmatize.

Here’s a newsflash.  It’s too late. 

But the stigma isn’t coming from society’s anger or frustration at a person who has fallen on hard times.  No, the anger and frustration comes from the fact that our government takes money from hard working Americans with the intention of HELPING those people, yet provides very few restrictions on how the recipient can use the program. In fact, in recent years, more and more fast food restaurants are accepting EBT cards as payment at their stores.  Often times what ends up happening is that those who are ON the program are able to have things that those paying INTO the system are NOT able to afford.  (If a family of 4 who PAYS the taxes can’t afford to take their kids to Kentucky Fried Chicken or Starbucks…why should someone holding an EBT card?)

Imagine for a moment (many of you have actually had this happen) this scenario. 

coupons

You, as a mom, cut coupons, budget and plan your meals to fit within the small amount YOUR family has to spend on groceries a month.  You do this quite often after working all day yourself or in the “downtime” of taking care of your children.  It’s a chore.  But you do it because you want to make your money stretch and feed your family the most nutritious meals possible.

You go to the store on payday and go through your list, item by item, only buying things that are either on sale or that you have a coupon for or that are on your list.

SHOPPING-CART

Most likely the kids are with you and up and down every aisle they’re asking if they can have some Oreos, Goldfish, Capri-suns or Cocoa pebbles.  But the answer is “no”.

You’re finally done, exhausted with cranky kids and you get to the checkout.  You’re standing behind another family who has a basket full of food including soda, crackers, ice cream;  all the things you tell your children they can’t have and that family whips out their EBT card to pay for their groceries.  Before you know it, they’ve paid  and are on their merry way, the child sitting in the cart eating a brand new package of Chips Ahoy before they even hit the parking lot and you’re praying that you calculated everything correctly in order to come in under budget.  

grocery cart full

Abuse.  Frustration.  Lack of gratitude.   Your blood is boiling.

This type of thing happens all the time and more and more Americans are frustrated and fed up.

No one wants to be mean and tell their kids no.  But if the families who are paying the taxes to support the welfare programs have to, so do those who are accepting them.  It’s time that Americans grow up and start to sit at the grown up table. Otherwise, our kids will be forced to pay more for their government when they’re adults. 

THIS is what’s causing the resentment.  NOT the fact that people are on hard times.  IT comes from the fact that the government isn’t good at managing the money that taxpayers pay.  NO ONE we know has a problem with helping those in need.  The problem is mismanagement and abuse of the system.

Address those two issues and many problems begin to disappear.

Suggestions:

The change from food stamp coupons to EBT came out of a couple of reasons. Stigmatization from use and government laziness disguised as “efficiency”.

Solution: Get rid of the EBT card. BRING BACK THE STAMP.

Yeah, we said it.  Yes, having food stamps IS stigmatizing.  It lets the public know that the family is going through a difficult time and there’s something comfortable or anonymous  about pulling out an EBT “card”.  It looks and feels the same as a debit card and the only people who know you are on assistance are you and the clerk.

When you have the food stamp coupons, many people feel shame.  Pretty sure we’ll catch hell for saying that but it’s true. (We’ll tell you the same thing we tell our kids: “It’s not my job to make you like me.  It’s my job to be honest.”).  No one wants to see other people feeling bad about themselves, that’s not what we’re saying. But there are two types of people who should be on assistance. The elderly or disabled who absolutely cannot do for themselves and people who are going through a difficult transitional time in their life.

The need comes from either being unable to provide for yourself or from circumstances beyond your immediate control like a job loss, the breakup of a marriage or some other reason that renders a person in need of public assistance.  Those people should NOT feel ashamed for needing help.  

However, to deny that there aren’t people who make a living  and abuse the system.  THOSE people should feel shame because they don’t NEED the help…they CHOOSE to abuse the system at the expense of those who genuinely do and the taxpayers footing the bill.  What ends up happening is that the abuse overshadows the actual need and contempt for the system grows.  

If you bring back the food stamp it makes those who are abusing it less likely to since they’ll have to whip out their food stamps instead of a nice shiny debit card and it will make people look at them—especially if they’re carrying a brand new coach purse and have a magnificent hairdo while driving the shiny Mercedes with the kickin’ sound system.

But for those who genuinely looks like they need help and are humble about that, believe us when we say,  people understand. We’ve all been through rough patches.  No one is judging you. We CAN tell the difference.

 REGULATE AND RESTRICT

Regulate the program so that ONLY items that have a certain nutritional value can be purchased. NO JUNK FOOD.  NO FAST FOOD. NO SODA or ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES. (See Sen. Coburn’s WasteBook 2012 excerpt below)

Now this is going to catch the ire of many who will claim that people who call for restrictions are trying to control what people do with their money.  Here’s another newsflash:  It’s not THEIR money.  Simply being the recipient of a check doesn’t make it yours to do with however you see fit.  No, when someone else is SUBSIDIZING your living expenses then there should be restrictions because you are only supposed to be purchasing items that are a NECESSITY.  When you are working and paying your own way THEN you get to decide what you get to spend it on…until then there should be strict accountability of the taxpayers money.  

This isn’t rocket science.  Look at the WIC program.  There are limitations on items that are allowed to be purchased while using the program. (See the list below) All of which, with careful planning, can provide for nutritious sufficient meals for any family.  Apply the same standards to SNAP.  You’ll have healthier families and it won’t cost the taxpayers nearly as much money.

(There is an organization that claims there is no way that a family of 4 can eat nutritiously on $600 a month. They have a “Food Stamp Challenge” for people to try to live on SNAP for 30 days to see if it’s possible to eat healthy foods.  They claim it can’t be done.  We’ll defer to the millions of moms who feed their families every month on $600 or LESS on this one, thank you very much.  It can be done…it may take time, thought and energy but it can be done.)

Now there are always exceptions to rules.  If a person is elderly or disabled and they are on a program like this permanently, there should be allowances or lighter guidelines so that they aren’t living (as some would call it) like a sub-human.  One needs to ask where the family members are for these people and why they aren’t stepping up to help care for their sick and elderly, but that’s for another time.

In the end, people need to realize that packaged cookies, cakes and snacks are a relatively new thing.  Everything that is bought in convenient packages is able to be made at home from scratch with many of the items that are on the WIC list.  Think homemade cookies, cakes, etc.  You know, how people used to do it before Nabisco and Kraft invaded our kitchens.  Simply saying that a person can’t purchase these items with government money isn’t denying them anything…they just have to work a little harder (than, you know, opening a package) to get them.

 DRUG TESTING FOR RECIPIENTS

If the taxpayer who works long hours in order to pay into the system needs to pass a drug test to hold their job, the least the government can do is require those who are on assistance to do the same. Administer random drug tests to program recipients and if a person fails they get ONE chance to remedy the situation, they are assigned a case worker whose job is to follow up and insure that compliance is being met. If they fail twice, they are removed from the program.  PERIOD. They can rely on their family or their church at that point.

If a person is in need of drug rehabilitation, then they need to go through a program to achieve that goal.  If a STATE has passed a law legalizing marijuana use they must concede to the Federal guidelines with regard to his issue.  SNAP is a FEDERALLY FUNDED program so FEDERAL LAW should supersede the state with regard to eligibility.  If states want to recognize their own drug laws over the Federal ones they are free to do so, but must fund their food assistance programs completely on their own.  NO FEDERAL FUNDS.

 MANDATORY VOLUNTEER WORK or COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTION

We should NEVER hand out money and expect nothing in return.  Most of us as moms have chore lists for our kids.  When they want something or want to go somewhere with their friends, we expect them to “earn” their spending money.  The same principle applies here.  For those who are physically able, there should be a mandatory contribution to their community.  A certain number of hours contributed in return for the generosity that is extended.  This can pay off more than monetarily.  If we required X number of community service hours to clean up a vacant lot, neighborhood beautification or any number of projects that can benefit individual communities it allows for people to “give back”.  It also give pride of ownership and accomplishment to the people who worked together to complete the project.  These contributions can be reflected on job applications or resumes and lend to the character of the person trying to better their life.

It’s a win win all the way around.

The government wins because they don’t have to pay extra for the projects, the community wins because they are benefiting from the efforts, the taxpayer benefits because their money is used efficiently and the person on the program benefits because they feel pride of ownership in giving back.

With these simple fixes, we can save AT LEAST $5 BILLION a year if not more.

In closing, this isn’t about hating the poor, quite the contrary—

Take this quote from Benjamin Franklin:

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

It’s about providing a safety NET not a lifetime HAMMOCK.

Conservatives don’t want to cut off help to those who need it.  We simply expect accountability from everyone involved in the process. 

http://themommylobby.org/facts-on-snap-waste/

http://themommylobby.org/eligible-foods-for-wic-program/

http://themommylobby.org/average-monthly-snap-assistance-amount/

What are your thoughts or comments?  Please share.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for this page and how can I help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I agree with most of your suggestions, except the stamp thing. I don’t think embarrassing someone should be the goal or the punishment. I think managing it is exactly what is needed. If all essential real food is coded appropriately. All food is coded (even fruits and vegetables). I’m sure there is already a distinction between fruits & vegetables, dairy, etc. and processed foods. If it isn’t already coded in a way that can be utitized, it certianly could be. AND it (the coding necessary) could be paid for with the savings. For example: If produce code started with a 1, and dairy with a 2, and meat with a 3 and grains with a 4, and beans with a 5, water and juice with a 6, that would leave 7, 8, 9 & 0 for items considered not necessity … and then there is the alphabet… it CAN be done easily. Then only allow HEALTHY, real foods to be purchased with the card. Simple, not easy, but simple.

  3. I think a lot of what you said has merit. Having worked in the recent past for the food stamps office I will say there are a lot of families that are working that are on the program. It’s not just people who are unemployed or not working that get SNAP. Some states have done the drug testing for benefits, and find that it is not cost effective. It ends up costing more for the drug testing, so the programs were stopped. I think, overall, SNAP is a good program. I think it helps more than we know and can see. Also in our state it was found that 95% of the people investigated for fraud were telling the truth. I think that’s a high number, but it’s a stat that the unit that does investigations released, and they would be the ones to know.

  4. I really like how well you presented the problems with this program, while also pointing out that some good people going through rough times are in need of this service as well.
    I live in MA and I can tell you that the fraud and abuse here is rampant! I know of many single women who sell them, (by ‘sell them’ I mean if they have $100 in food stamps they sell them for $60 in cash to someone so they can have cash instead – they DONT buy food!), couples where the man and the woman file for food stamps separately and sell them (the men are usually working under the table), the store down the street was shut down for buying over $150,000 worth(same deal as above – customer brings in $100, owner gives $60 for it), and just recently over $40 million in SNAP payments were sent to families that either didnt exist or no longer qualified! These things are everyday occurances here in good ‘ol MA.
    In any case, I like most of your suggestions – particularly the drug test and some type of service requirement. I think that would really weed out the people who are getting food stamps ‘because they can’. Many who DO NOT need them wont bother if they know they have actually DO something to receive them.
    This issue is not about hating ‘poor people’, (incidentally I AM poor), but quite the opposite. By eliminating the fraud and waste, and removing from the program those who do not NEED it, the truly poor and be taken care of. In the meantime, taxpayers can know that their hard earned money that is going into government services through taxes, is being spent wisely and helping citizens who genuinely need it.

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