Food Stamps & Steak and Seafood: Fact from Fiction
By John Davis Region 8 Webmaster and LUCA Advisory Council Chair
In February, Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin introduced a bill to prohibit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients from using their benefits to buy "cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak." Brattin’s bill seems unlikely to go anywhere, but the conservative media outlets are having a field day using the idea to demonize citizens unlucky enough to qualify for food stamps.
This isn’t a new idea; former President Ronald Reagan told stories about “welfare queens” hurting our economy. However, we seldom stop to look at the amount of our tax dollars that go to the wealthy. The SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program – or Food Stamps) is part of the Farm Bill that Congress renews every five years. The program ran temporarily during the Great Depression and was discontinued afterward. From 1961 to 1964 the program was studied with the Food Stamp Program law being passed in 1964.
Today, about 47 million people receive Food Stamp Benefits every month. However, 83% of all households receiving Food Stamps have either a child, elderly, or disabled person living in that home. Conservative media likes to say that “only 31% of food stamp recipients have a job.” What they don’t tell you is that children and elderly make up those numbers of “non-workers.”
Food Stamps make up just 2% of the Federal Budget while defense speeding is 19%. It is a misnomer to think that the people receiving food stamp benefits don’t work. Wal-Mart is one the largest collectors of food stamps in the country. Last year, Wal-Mart captured 18% of all food stamp sales, or $13.5 billion of the $76 billion in food stamp sales. That is ironic since many Wal-Mart workers qualify for food stamps. The Federal Government does not track employers of Food Stamp recipients but some states do. Ohio is one of those states and Wal-Mart tops the list of employers with 7,000 of its workers – or 15% of the Wal-Mart workforce in Ohio receiving food stamps. When you consider the Walton family hold’s more wealth than the lowest 42% of Americans, it isn’t those employees that we are subsidizing but rather the Walton family because they don’t pay their employees a living wage.
Another fact that should shame us all is there are over 5,000 military families on Food Stamps. While a soldier places their life in harm’s way in the Middle East, their family is here living in poverty. With 19% of the federal budget being spent on defense, it is easy to see that the bulk of that is being spent on defense contractors rather than our troops. Our brightest and best shouldn’t have to serve while their family lives in poverty. Would you want to walk up to one of our service families and say “no steak for you, just eat bologna”?
Brattin’s bill isn’t going anywhere because State Governments can’t dictate how Federal dollars are spent. So, if a Republican State Representative can’t pass a law that dictates what can and can’t be purchased with Food Stamps, why bother? Misinformation is why. The Republicans just passed the most harmful budget for working families that has ever been proposed. They want to cut all social programs, cut education, cut Medicare, cut Medicaid, cut Social Security and give larger tax breaks to the wealthy. Bills such as the misguided “no steak and seafood law” do nothing but promote the myth that all food stamp recipients are lazy and won’t work, when actually nothing could be further from the truth.
For every dollar the Federal Government spends on welfare and food stamps, they spend three dollars on subsidies for oil and coal companies. If people began to look at the Republican’s priorities, soon they would see what they are about. Republicans and the conservative media must find a way for the shrinking middle class to blame the poor for their plight, when actually the rich and powerful receive more of our tax dollars. Food Stamps are part of the Farm Bill that is renewed every five years. Last year, the law was renewed with cuts to food stamps and additions to farm subsidies. Less than 20% of farmers nationwide receive farm subsidies, but those are usually the wealthiest. An online data base of all who receive farm subsidies can be found here: http://farm.ewg.org/ . You can look at each state and county; so check out your area to see which one of your neighbors are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year not to farm.
When you look at the myths and the facts, the Food Stamp program is being misrepresented by our elected officials and those in the conservative media. Any program as large as this will have some fraud, but all studies show the Food Stamp program is run very well. The largest demographic of Food Stamp recipients is married Caucasian couples with children. Don’t blame the poor for our problems, look to the source of it: the wealthy welfare recipients being lavished in tax breaks and government subsides of their own. Some of the most conservative members of Congress scream about “government giveaways” while receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for a farm they rarely see. Separate the fact from fiction and see the real issue – and it isn’t food stamps paying for steak.