This week the House of Representatives is set to debate the misnamed “Farm Bill,” which recently passed the Senate. According to Human Events, the majority of the debate will focus on the explosion of food stamp benefits, and how out-of-control spending on the benefits, officially called SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), could be curtailed. Late last year the Weekly Standard reported that since 2009 food stamp rolls have increased at a rate of 75 times that of job growth. The Standard quoted Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee explaining that “Over time, these trends, if not reversed, spell economic disaster for the United States and its citizens.”
Spending for food stamps has increased 70 percent during the Obama administration and if the Farm Bill passes in its current form, those spending rates will be locked in place. In order to draw attention to the bill, it’s en vogue this week for Democrats to take up the “SNAP Challenge,” an experiment in shopping and eating on a budget of $4.50 a day, the amount that SNAP awards individuals on the program.
Even the Washington Post took the challenges to task, reminding lawmakers that the S in SNAP stands for supplemental. More than 70 percent of households on the program have school-aged children, thus qualifying them for free or reduced-price meals. While the average benefit for a one-person household is $4.50 a day, that figure increases with additional family members, especially if members of the family are receiving two meals a day for free at school.
As to be expected when a $955 billion bill targeting the out-of-control welfare state comes up for a vote, political grandstanding has ensued. This week 36 members of Congress have taken up the challenge, and it seems they’re aiming to outdo each other in ridiculous stunts to showcase just how difficult they think living on a limited food budget is for average Americans. The blogger Sooper Mexican has an amusing rundown of the worst moments so far, which include shopping at a high-end supermarket and buying a single egg for $1.08. It seems that these politicians believe that Americans receiving public assistance should be able to shop for a single hard boiled egg at the time at Whole Foods, with their fellow Americans footing the bill. The Washington Post even offered a suggestion for the SNAP challengers, from the USDA’s own website:
[The] USDA also publishes an extensive list of recipes that can be used to produce a healthy low-cost meal. A search for dishes costing $4.50 or less turned up 444 options, many of which were for eight or more servings. Dishes costing less than $1.50 produced 116 results.
Many conservatives have also taken up the challenge, noting how, with smart shopping and advanced planning, families can easily and healthfully live solely within the SNAP allotment. With millions of American families living on budgets tighter than ever, it’s a message that resonates with voters. This, coupled with the fact that food stamps were never meant to supply a family’s full nutritional needs, are what conservatives should be emphasizing if they plan on voting against the bill. With the House Speaker John Boehner publicly stating that he plans to support the House’s version of the bill, which is only slightly less bloated than the Senate version, it’s unclear if conservatives will even try to block the bill’s passage.
Instead of locking in current spending rates, some commonsense solutions to our food stamp epidemic can and should be implemented. Another government assistance program, WIC, limits spending to basic staples, something that those receiving food stamps should also be required to do. There are countless stories of those on the program going on spending sprees to use up their benefits, buying candy and sometimes even lobsters on their fellow taxpayer’s dime. Realistically, conservatives don’t have enough political capital or power to do anything to slow, let alone halt, these massive explosions of food stamp spending. If Democrats promoting the SNAP Challenge are unable to budget, both at the supermarket with their own credit card and while budgeting for our nation’s expenditures, it appears they’re also unwilling to ask their fellow Americans to do so, even if those Americans are spending taxpayer dollars. If that’s not the definition of the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” what is?