Friday, April 13, 2007

Is This Really Necessary?

The city of Albuquerque is currently being blanketed with radio advertisements for foods stamps. I was astonished the first time I heard these advertisements, and I was even more surprised when one version of the ads failed to mention that there was a income requirement. In the spot that I have heard most frequently, they discuss how a person would be surprised at who would qualify for food stamps. They were right. I am very surprised.

The food stamp program was established during the Great Depression, when it truly was needed. But like so many programs instituted during that time period (think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, HUD...), the food stamp initiative has doggedly persisted. And like the other programs of that era, it has not only persisted but grown. It is now viewed as "something we ought to take advantage of if we can," instead of the welfare program that it is.

Bureaucrats and lawmakers are worried at the low rate of food stamp usage. However, instead of using this as a signal to scale down the program, they are using tax dollars to advertise it. This is a textbook example of goverment's inability to reduce a bloated bureaucracy once it has been established.

The bureaucrats aren't the only ones to blame. We can also thank our lawmakers for the persistance and the increase of the food stamp program. Here are a few examples:

According to Minnesota Public Radio: Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, says the 22-page application form is one reason the program has stagnated. Berglin has introduced a bill this session to trim the application to three pages. Berglin says other obstacles are a monthly reporting requirement and a rule which caps benefits at a low level if recipients don't use the full allocation every month.

And in Iowa: State officials have conducted a campaign to increase the number of Iowans who're getting "food stamps" -- and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving Iowa a nearly half-a-million dollar "bonus" for the three-year effort.
Jessica Webster is a member of the St. Paul Legal Services Advocacy project. She wrote a report which estimates that 189,000 state residents are eligible for the food stamp program but are not currently participating. She had this to say: "This is a federal resource that we are not utilizing," she says. "By not capturing this resource we have lost $838 million since year 2000."

I was appalled when I read that statement. The federal government is not a beneficent uncle, longing to distribute money among his citizens. The program is not free. The money to fund the food stamp program and the campaigns promoting it has been forcibly taken from you and from me. If you do not believe that your "contribution" to the program is forcible, see what happens when you don't pay your taxes. Since my money is taken from me against my will, I feel that it ought to at least be spent on valuable services. To use my tax dollars to promote the expansion of an already bloated program to those who probably don't need it is insulting and infuriating.

Part of the American Dream is self-sufficiency. This will be impossible to achieve if we persist in the entitlement attitude that benefits us at the expense of someone else.


JorgenMan said...

The most ridiculous thing about this is that these politicians are trying to measure the success of the food stamp program by the number of people who sign up for it! The point of the system is to get people on their feet so they don't need the system. Not only this, but the inverse is taken to be true, as well - deducing that we've got real trouble on our hands if people aren't signing up for food stamps. Idiots!