Fixing Food Stamps

food stamps Part of the fallout from our current recession has been the growth of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), neé ‘Food Stamps,” participation throughout the nation. This Federal program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food & Nutrition Service and the states, provides non-cash food assistance to households in impoverished financial distress.

Republican conservatives regularly use SNAP as a poster child for lambasting ‘welfare’. Somehow, the only thing they might want on the eligible food items list is guns and ammo. Wouldn’t want to trample on anyone’s “firearms freedom.”

The Teavangelicals might find food stamps more palatable if they were handed out in their churches after forcing the needy to don loaner sackcloth on a Sunday morning after the “God wants you to be rich” sermon, to trudge down the aisle as wretches to be ‘saved’ and renounce President Obama. The “Joel Osteen Manna From Heaven” card?  Never mind, less affluent members of the congregation already have SNAP electronic benefit transfer cards in their wallets.

Full Disclosure: this columnist worked at USDA as a budget analyst in the 1990s, when jobs were being created and the economy was booming. Back when food stamps were actually USDA-issued coupons, there was a growing fraudulent abuse of this food assistance program. For recipients, program abuse earns them administrative long-term, or even permanent ineligibility for benefits. EBT cards greatly mitigated that. Fraud, as in dancing, usually requires “two to tango.” Unscrupulous businesses engaging in program fraud tend to get to meet the USDA gumshoes with badges and guns. States investigate food stamp fraud as well. Offenders earn themselves a court appearance, heavy fines, and possible jail terms. I’m not inferring a total absence of food stamp fraud, but USDA and the states have the odds stacked high against fraudsters.

In the richest country on Earth, few of us want the legitimately poor to starve in an exercise of Libertarian Darwinism. The conservative Republican aim to debase the poor and needy for public amusement is insulting to the American character. On the other hand, the program is designed to help Americans in need, not fuel nanny shills such as New Yawk City billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), or be a vegan indoctrination tool of the so-called “Physicians for Responsible Medicine” or PeTA.

Obesity is a national health problem, but so is poverty.

The answer isn’t GOP soup kitchens serving watery fish head soup from an old Stalinist Gulag recipe to the needy after correctly spouting some arcane bible verse.  Millions of needy Americans can’t be expected to convert to bean sprouts and whole grains for enforced sustenance. It would not be too much, however, to ask if publicly funded nutritional assistance skips the soft drink and snack food aisles, or the dessert freezer. Supermarket point-of-sale systems already have the programming to keep ineligible items off food stamp EBT cards; adding some more ineligible grocery items with little nutritional value to databases would not be that hard.

Enter the Politicoquacks. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), whose rich daddy probably put him through medical school, proposed such an idea of nixing junk food from SNAP as one of 400 amendments to the Senate budget bill. As a conservative Republican, Coburn likely has a nanny scold bend  in mind to further shame America’s least fortunate. Aren’t conservatives all about “choice” (as long as you aren’t a woman of reproductive age.)? High marks for physician haughty arrogance lecturing. If the GOP quacks were really interested in people’s health, why are they so intent upon denying accessible health care for so many?

I can already hear the wailing from the Snack Food Association.

We can do it before some venture capital cabal resurrects the Twinkie.

Yes, SNAP is costly as a whole, but you wouldn’t want to have to frequently prove penury to qualify for it. The program has many rules, but internal controls can always be improved.  Common sense improvements for our nutritional assistance programs can save taxpayer dollars without publicly rubbing the least fortunate families’ noses in the dirt.