The Case for Food Stamps

By Matthew Hines

Every hour of the Trump administration, it seems that traditional conservative – and traditional Republican – values, are assaulted by those who profess to be conservatives and Republicans. From immigration to reckless spending to withdrawing from world leadership, the current “conservative” dogma is now diametrically opposite to what was espoused only ten years ago.

The latest assault on conservatism is the annual budget presentation. From defunding the National Endowment for the Arts and National Public Radio, cutting funding for the National Weather Service, and attempting to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, the most egregious attack – yet the most curious proposal ever – is one where the budget proposes eliminating funds for food stamps.

The curious part of the proposal is not that it will save the government a proposed $129 billion over ten years (a pittance in a $4.4 trillion dollar pool of money), but what is being proposed as a replacement for the funding. The idea is for the government run program to instead send food boxes to those who otherwise would have received the food stamp money, and the food would, ostensibly, be chosen by the government.

This proposal is problematic on several levels.

One, it smacks of collectivism. We are far enough away from the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe that we might have forgotten how their governments would control access to food for their people. This proposal is antithetical to anything we stand for in America.

Two, it removes agency. Even though needy Americans receive money to buy food, they still have agency on what they can choose to feed their families. They also would know what child in their family has a food allergy, and can buy for that child. How will the government know this?

Three, the potential for fraud is still great. If we complain about packages from Amazon getting stolen, then how can we be certain we will receive our monthly box of food without it being taken? How could we prove to a government investigator that it was taken, while they might assume we are trying to pull a fast one on them? I can imagine that an even bigger bureaucracy would have to be created to implement this program, which should give true fiscal conservatives pause.

The trend of some on the right to demonize those who use food stamps is both long running and misplaced. The assumption seems to be that low income Americans who need food stamps are lazy, and that they would rather feed of the public dole than get a “real” job. From personal experience, I can attest this is not the case.

My family fell on hard times years ago. My dad was the main breadwinner, but lost his job near the 2008 financial crash. My mom couldn’t really find a job for several years. We survived, but barely. One of the main reasons why we did was because we went on food stamps. It allowed them to feed their large family, and the money it freed up on our family budget allowed them to get their feet back under them. They weren’t lazy, they just fell to bad luck.

Their story is not an isolated incident. I could tell you of many more Americans who use food stamps as a lifeline for their families. They are hard workers, taxpayers, and do everything right. Yet, through no fault of their own, they find they can not quite make ends meet. So, a little extra through food stamps or a tax refund goes a long way for them.

It is easy for those who sit in the ivory towers with their golden parachutes to sit and pass judgment on us who have not followed your path. Not everyone went to college, or got a nice job in the right industry, or were even born into a middle class family. Yet, you, the elites, are the ones making policy and saying that a few billion dollars a year to pay for food for the poor is too much, and that cutting it will somehow help balance the budget? You must live in a special kind of world.

I say this as a fiscal conservative, traditional Republican. I have made peace with many of the programs some in my party malign, simply because I look at the longer term cost of not providing this aid now. I also feel that, even though it is the public dole, the person who receives the money still has agency and some dignity left as they choose what to put on their table. This proposal will strip them of their dignity.

Dignity, individual agency, freedom of choice, compassion. It is human qualities, and qualities I once thought were the hallmark of my once great Republican Party.

Maybe I am wrong.