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Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Almost two months ago, I wrote a post about the assault on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), more commonly known by its original name, Food Stamps. Recent days have revealed more details about the ruling classes’ actual strategy in doing so, from both “conservative” and “liberal” directions.

First the conservative one. Congresscritter and former VP candidate Paul Ryan has written a proposal to convert the  SNAP program into a block grant, as succinctly described by Stacy Dean at Huffpo. It’s pretty straight forward. The program would be cut by $125 to $135 billion over five years, and would be a gradual thing. I speculate this approach is intended to keep these insidious cuts under the radar as much as possible. The cuts could be accomplished in two ways, as Dean describes quite well:

If the cuts came solely from restricting eligibility, 12 to 13 million people would need to be cut from the program.

If the cuts came solely from across-the-board benefit cuts, benefits would have to be cut by more than $50 per person per month in 2019 (for a family of three, that’s $1,800 over the whole year).  Put another way, the maximum SNAP benefit would be set at just 73 percent of the Thrifty Food Plan, the Agriculture Department’s estimate of the minimum amount a family needs to afford a bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet.

So, either 12 to 13 million Americans, mostly children, will lose their benefits entirely, or millions more will lose one-fourth of their food budget. If you’re a single parent with two kids, losing $150/month in food stamps is a Very Big Deal.

But never fear! The other faction of the ruling class has less evil alternatives.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine(PCRM) has a lengthy, all so medically and politically correct proposal  to restrict SNAP benefits to “simple set of healthful foods,” which translates to allowing only grains, vegetables, beans, fruits and some multiple vitamins to be purchased with SNAP benefits. No meat, no milk, no cheese and, of course, no junk food whatsoever shall be provided to America’s working poor by the overstressed taxpayer, and it’s all for poor people’s own good!

How magnificently liberal. That fanatical vegetarian, Adolf Hitler, would certainly approve.

Of course, as usual, liberals and even neo-liberals are a bit divided on this issue.Charles Lane writes in the Pravda on the Potomac that he thinks the PCRM is going a little bit too far, perhaps fish, poultry and lean red meat should still be allowed to America’s working poor, but “junk food” should never be paid for by the taxpayers. At the very least, soda pop should be excluded.

I have a problem with that, and it’s the camel’s nose in the tent problem. At first glance, it seems common-sensical and my initial, kneejerk reaction was to to think it’s a good idea. But. If soda pop is prohibited from being purchased with SNAP, what’s next? Potato chips? Well, they’re bad, so OK. Then what? Anything with high sodium content? Fatty meat? All red meat? Whole milk?Where does it end?

A more glaring flaw in the more liberal, surely lesser evil than Paul Ryan approach is that it does nothing to address the cost of these nutritious foods. The main reason the working poor buy not so healthy foods isn’t because they don’t want them, it’s because they can’t afford them. When whole grain bread is 4 bucks a loaf but the cheaper processed store brand bread is less than a buck a loaf what is someone on a SNAP budget going to buy? You only get one guess.

So. If you restrict what SNAP can purchase, you actually reduce the amount of food the working poor can buy with their current level of benefits. Anyone who shops at grocery stores and notices the prices of different types of food can figure that out with very little mathematical effort. For example, the other day my wife bought a turnip at a grocery store. Cost? $1.19. For one turnip.  

Should the government subsidize fruits and veggies to drive down costs? Should it(gasp!) actually increase SNAP benefits to enable the working poor to buy these healthy foods? This isn’t even addressed. Of course, in these tight budgetary times, it can’t even be considered. I can easily see President Obama embracing this approach as part of a grand bargain to balance the budget. His wife would certainly campaign for it. 

I can see it now: President Obama solemnly intoning, “The other side wants to just cut food assistance for hardworking Americans who need a little help. My approach is to insure that they eat healthier, not just eat less.” 

Even though they would be eating less, but what’s one more lie to this lying sack of corporatist slime of a President? It sounds good, and just look at Michelle’s arms! Look at their beautiful children! I can already hear the gushing Obamaphiles. Besides, since people like Lane are already saying that SNAP has become just another subsidy for Big Agra, wouldn’t it feel so good to stick it to them by cutting or restricting SNAP? It’s not about reducing caloric intake for poor people, it’s about hitting Big Agra in the pocketbook! 

I can also hear a few of you saying, “Well, Barbarian, what’s your superior socialist solution?” OK, here are a couple of ideas. 

The national government can establish a chain of accessible grocery stores across the country that will sell only good quality food at substantially discounted prices to all Americans. The purpose of these stores will be just that, and the government will own and operate them by paying good wages to these new federal employees. There can be an emphasis on purchasing meat and produce from local farmers where available. Not only will SNAP recipients have incentive to shop there because their benefits will buy more, but anyone, even Charles Lane or a Responsible Physician, can shop there as well. 

And if the latter really don’t want to rub shoulders with the Great Unwashed, well, they still have Whole Foods. And the former, if they still want to buy the junk, can go to a for-profit grocery store and do so. It will be foolish, though, and cost them more. Besides, a full-blown government education campaign in the media will show them the error of their ways. 

Better yet, in addition to establishing new stores, the government can simply nationalize all of the Wal-Mart stores in small towns that now have a near-monopoly in the local grocery markets. The employees can then be paid a true living wage, the small town folks would see their food prices drop and quality increase, the Waltons would get screwed, and that really would give the Barbarian a warm, fuzzy feeling. 

And the money to do all of this wonderful socialist stuff could be entirely financed by ending overseas imperial adventures, bringing our troops home, dismantling most of the military industrial complex, and figuratively turning swords into plowshares. That last could actually be a good argument in many churches. You, know, what would Jesus do? 

I’m not saying this modest proposal has a snowball’s chance in a hot hell being implemented by our current government, but I am saying that it definitely can work if it is actually tried, and would be popular to boot. In any case, it’s definitely morally superior to the two ideas described above, which just take more from the working classes and enrich a very, very few.

crossposted at Voices on the Square

Photo from USDAgov licensed under Creative Commons