Saturday, February 15, 2014

Oh SNAP! My Take on the Food Stamp Debate in Indiana

The first food stamps in the US.
It would appear that a lot of people are upset about a few things that have been lingering in the background for years.  Should people that receive SNAP benefits be drug tested and should they have to buy nutritious food and leave the chips, pop and candy on the grocery store shelves?

The answer to those questions may not be easy.  My opinion is maybe on the drug testing and yes on leaving the junk at the store.

Here's a little history on the SNAP program.  My sources are linked to my statements for the convenience of anyone that decides to be a "cite your sources" nazi.  :)

Our original food stamp program was started on May 16, 1939.
It ended (yes, the government CANCELLED an assistance program) in the spring of 1943 because it was determined that the program was no longer needed.

The program was reinstated as a pilot program on May 29, 1961 under Kennedy and under an Executive Order.   

The thing that I find interesting with the early food stamp programs in the United States is that they were not free.  The people on the program actually purchased their stamps at a discounted price.  Similar to you giving me 50 cents and I give you back $1 with the stipulation that the $1 I gave you can only be used for food. 

In 1964, the Food Stamp Act was passed by Congress and became a permanent government program in the United States.  At this time, it was still a purchase program and according to the USDA was meant to serve two purposes.  To make nutritional foods reachable for low income Americans and to strengthen our agricultural economy.

That's just the tip of the iceberg for the history of the Food Stamp Program in the United States.  I encourage you to read the full history here so you will see the ups and downs of the program and how it has changed over the years.

One thing that I will point out that seems to have flown over a lot of people's heads is that the program is meant to SUPPLEMENT people's food bills.  The program was NOT designed to take care of the entire bill.  That's is why it is called the SUPPLEMENTAL Nutrition Assistance Program.  People need to realize that when they apply for benefits that the program is not designed to be the only source of food purchasing power.

Drug Testing Food Stamp Reciepients

How many people are actually sitting at home on their rear end raking in the bucks on the back of the taxpayer?  Probably not as many as people would think.  There are people out there that have the system figured out and know how to pull at their family and friends heart strings just right to get what they need money wise but I don't believe that it is as rampant as the news media would have us believe it is.

Yes, people sell their food stamps.  I've been approached a few times in the past few years with people offering to give me a certain amount of their benefit if I buy them something that they aren't eligible to purchase.  It happens and you have to understand that when people think they need something, they make sacrifices.  Food is fairly easy to obtain from pantries, friends and relatives so when someone is desperate for cigarettes, I can see why they resort to selling their SNAP benefit.  Notice I didn't say I agree with it and I did not take those people up on their offers.

I'm guessing that a 1/4 ounce of pot probably runs about $150 ish in today's economy.  Drugs are not cheap.  Heck, even methadone has a price tag attached to it.  There is no such thing as a cheap high when it comes to drug use.  Just ask a junkie or a recovered junkie and they will tell you that it's not cheap being an addict. 

I live in Indiana so the income and MAXIMUM benefit in your state could be different but let's take a look at the chart from the FSSA website to actually see what people on SNAP receive.

This is the income limits and MAXIMUM SNAP allotment for each household size in Indiana.  In order to meet the maximum, you have to be flat broke based on the income requirements for receiving assistance.  The number of people that are receiving the maximum are a very small number in the overall food stamp recipient spectrum.  The program is just set up that way.

Logic says to me that it is highly unlikely that anyone is selling their food stamp benefits for drugs.  People who say they would do that instead of feeding their children have got to realize that it wouldn't be happening for long, although there are exceptions to every rule.

Will the additional cost of drug testing these people really benefit the taxpayer in Indiana?  Let's take a look at the numbers.

According to the USDA, there were 917,743 people receiving SNAP benefits in Indiana as of November, 2013.  (Ironically enough, our neighbor Illinois has over 2 million people on food stamps.  I thought that was interesting since we are neighbors and the numbers are so far apart.)  Now that number does include children.

This next figure was harder to locate.  How many of those people are children so they will not be drug tested?  The only figure I could find was for 2011.  It was reported in 2012 that there were 379,000 children in Indiana on the food stamp program.

So, according to the figures that I have, there are APPROXIMATELY 538,743 adults on food stamps in Indiana.  I have been unsuccessful in finding out how many of those adults are elderly or disabled so I'm going to have to stop here because assumptions just don't work for data figures.

It would depend on how much the administration and execution would be for the drug tests and how often they are administered.  I think that sometimes people forget the administration costs of a program.  Just like the people who work in the SNAP office don't work for free or use free equipment, copy paper and white out, tho drug tests aren't performed at home and won't mysteriously provide results.  It takes people to do that.

On the flip side, it would produce jobs.

Until I see hard data that will allow me to do a cost analysis, I'm going to have to stay on the fence here for mandatory drug testing for all adults, but I would support random drug testing.  That should be another avenue to consider here because a lot of employers do this.  Although I do have to say that from the data that I do have access to, I find it hard to believe that there is a serious problem with people on food stamps doing drugs instead of going to work and believe it is more than likely simple media creation.

Only Buying Nutritious Food and NO MORE JUNK FOOD

Yes, yes and yes!  This is a fantastic idea and I can argue this side until the cows come home.

It is possible to eat healthy food using SNAP benefits.  Let me repeat that statement... IT IS POSSIBLE TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD USING SNAP BENEFITS.

What is healthy food?  Fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy in their natural form.

What is not healthy food?  Soda, chips, candy, processed ready to eat dinners and the majority of what is on the shelves on the inside of the grocery store.  The isles that go back and forth.  Most of the healthier items are on the outskirts and are the ones that you normally have to cook.

Translation-  You would have to actually start preparing meals and snacks from scratch.


Buying healthy food vs. junk food means that these people would have to learn a different way to shop.  They would have to put some effort into their shopping and learn how to shop sensibly and cook.  The ones that are able to need to learn how to grow their own in the warmer months to supplement their food bills.  Believe it or not, one of the things that CAN be purchased with food stamps are garden plants and seeds but for some reason, a lot of people in the program aren't aware of that.

For those that don't have the room to grow their own, they can visit a Farmer's Market where they can pick their own for a discounted price and learn how to store that food for future consumption.  Canning and freezing are excellent ways to preserve food and are healthier than heavily processed food items.

My husband and I spend less than $200 a month at the grocery store and we do NOT eat a lot of processed foods.  Sweets still likes his childhood cereal and pop tarts but the majority of what we eat is clean food.  How do we do it?  I learned how to shop better and we grow our own in the warmer months of the year.

You can't be lazy all the time and expect to get a lot out of something that you put little effort into.  We were all promised change a few years ago and we got it.  Forced change that the majority of people are not wanting to do what it takes to make their lives better.

And Lastly, Get a Job You Slacker

I am not a bleeding heart type of person and I used to be the first one to tell someone to stop being lazy and get a job.  Can't get one?  My answer was always for them to try harder or go back to school to expand their education.  The thing is that in our new economy, times have certainly changed.  The old "get a job" just doesn't work anymore.  We are living in a different world, a different economy and a different market than we did years ago.

The news stations say the recession is in recovery or has already recovered.  Really?  Are you feeling that recovery in your house?

There are plenty of jobs out there but they aren't the jobs that our grandparents had, not even close.  My maternal grandfather was a machinist.  My maternal grandmother was a meat butcher.  Both lines of work provided them with a good, solid middle class income.  My father worked for RCA and my mother switched careers from also being a butcher into the administrative world.  They too worked jobs that provided them with a solid, middle class income.

Me?  Well... I've worked a lot of different jobs over my lifetime so far but nothing compared to what they did.  That's the way the world is today.  My husband is retired from the Army and I now work part time at a food place.  We are in good financial shape but we got here by planning, sacrifice and good old fashioned hard work.  Our retirement will be much different than our parents' retirement and the kids will be lucky if they can retire at all unless they look outside the box for the answer.

The entry level, $20+ an hour with full benefits jobs that our parents and grandparents had are not out there like they were back then.  In today's world, most people are looking at working jobs that pay less than $15 an hour and have part time hours.  Take a look at the fast food workers and you won't see the number of teenagers that you did years ago because adults have taken those jobs to simply have some sort of income.

Manufacturing was the backbone of the American middle class and manufacturing jobs just aren't here anymore.  Everything is made overseas at a cheaper cost and shipped around the world for purchase.  It's all about the cost of labor and Americans priced themselves out of the game.  Why would anyone pay $30.00 an hour for an American worker when they can pay a Chinese worker $5.00 instead?  Our government opened up the opportunity for everything that we purchase to carry the "Made in China" tag and we did nothing to stop it.

You may not like it, agree with it or believe it is right but companies are in business to make money and they will go where there is money to be made and it's NOT in the United States anymore.  I invite anyone that doesn't like it to stop complaining about it, get a taste of the entrepreneurial spirit, start your own company and run it in the US as long as you possible can before your Chinese manufactured competitor runs you into bankruptcy.  You will eventually move your manufacturing to China or your company will die.  It's harsh but unfortunately true.

People boycott Walmart, Target and other stores all the time but when someone is making less that $15 an hour in a part time job and they need a new microwave or toaster, where do you think they are going to shop and which one do you think they will buy?   

Jobs are out there but they aren't adequate in the skill level that is required to equal high enough wages for people to live on like they did in years past.  People adapt whether they want to or not.

It's on both sides of the political realm, Democrat and Republican, and has been going on for YEARS.  Maybe it is unintended consequences, maybe it's part of the bigger picture, the future plans for our country.  Our grandchildren will see the real brunt of what has been going on over the past 50 years.   

We put ourselves in this bed so now we have to lay in it.  I predict a serious crash in the housing market.  Houses will either become cheaper or the buying pool with dry up.  Rentals will be more popular because people will not be able to afford to purchases houses on their current, part time salaries.  It's just not possible.

Get a job indeed.  Get at least two or you are screwed.

I've said for years that it's important to find out what is going on in US politics.  I'm just as guilty as the next guy when it comes to slipping on keeping tabs on Washington.  If you want to point fingers and throw out blame then blame Washington for coming up with the deals, but you have to also blame yourself for not paying attention.  We let this happen so now we have to deal with it.

Happy Saturday my friends...



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