Food stamps

This is vile, it stinks to heaven.  I used to be pretty good at teaching public policy in a non-partisan manner (we have some of my former students reading this blog and if I’m wrong, don’t hold back) but the last decade or so has really cramped my style, hooboy.  The insouciant cruelty of fat and happy Republicans simpering about making hungry children dependent (are there no poorhouses?  do the mills not offer employment to a deft eight-year old?) after they engineered the budget deficits they have now decided to rail about, and carried water for the “job-creators” who feathered their nests giving us the recession that’s put so many people on the street and on food stamps, is simply Dickensian.  Eric Cantor is a horrible person, whipping a gang of racists and ignorant, fearful, haters into increasingly unspeakable behavior with fake moralizing and outright lies.

And the horse’s asses he rode in on.

Medicaid expansion, too.  Mississippi, our own Haiti, land of poverty, despair, and early death, turns down free federal money in order that its poorest don’t get medical care?  It can’t even be selfishness among the plutocrats: how is it good for business that its workforce is sicker?  It’s simply cruelty, far beyond the possible bounds of policy debate or the scope of ideology, an abomination no religion can countenance. What did these people’s parents raise them to be? What were they told in Sunday School?

I give up, I’m not up to this.  But luckily, there is Käthe Kollwitz.

kollwitz 1 kollwitz 2 kollwitz 3

and George Grosz.Untitled 4Swim if you can, and if you are too fat, go under (Schwimme, wer schwimmen kann, und wer zu plump ist, geh unter!)

May your dreams be haunted with sick, starving children, you swine.

 

 

 

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

84 thoughts on “Food stamps”

  1. “It can’t even be selfishness among the plutocrats: how is it good for business that its workforce is sicker?” The warped satisfaction is simply lording it over other people, baaskap. There’s been a lot of discussion at Crooked Timber over workplace abuse – sexual harassment, cutting toilet breaks and such – which has nothing to do with maximising profits. One of the main functions of unions is to defend dignity, no just wages.

    In fairness to Mississippi (the facts are quite bad enough), the lower part of the linked graph exaggerates the differences between states by a scale that doesn’t start at zero. If you really want to do this, good practice is to put a scale break in the bar. Hint to Microsoft: please offer this in Excel bar charts.

  2. From the link: “Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly referred to as food stamps, reflect the lapse of a temporary increase created by the administration’s stimulus program in 2009.”

    So, what you’re complaining about is that the temporary stimulus isn’t permanent? That emergency spending measures, touted as a short term response to an acute situation, aren’t going to be preserved forever? This is what you’re complaining about? Not a cut from the previous baseline, but a return to it?

    1. No, Brett, the problem is with the current measures being objectively insufficient. Whether the program is temporary or permanent is irrelevant. The humanitarian solution would be to extend it, strengthen it, or replace it with a better alternative. The complaint here is that the unwillingness of the current GOP (and plenty of unaffiliated libertarians and conservative — pardon me, “centrist” — Democrats) constitutes wanton cruelty (maybe inspired by certain American brands of Christianity where selfishness, avarice, and pride are considered virtues and Matthew 25:35-40 is anathema). Not because it’s more or less what was previously given, but because of these folks’ express willingness to let their fellow Americans starve. Americanus Americano lupus.

      There is nothing magical about the “previous baseline” that makes it objectively the right level of support. The American social safety net has always been characterized by the size of its holes, not the strength of support it provides (see, e.g., the practical joke that calls itself Section 8).

      1. When the TEMPORARY Bush tax cuts were expiring, Brett was singing a different tune, I think. He and others caterwauled so loudly that the TEMPORARY Bush tax cuts got extended for two years. Because the rich have it so hard, you see.

        –TP

      2. Whether or not you think current levels are insufficient, it remains that current levels were supposed to be temporary.

        This was one of the major objections to the whole stimulus package, at the time: That Democrats would inevitably attempt to make the stimulus spending level permanent, by painting the end of the temporary spending as a vicious cut.

        Honestly, I don’t think you’ll ever be happy with levels of welfare, so long as they’re not high enough to make being on welfare a better deal than being employed.

        1. Being on welfare can already be a better deal financially and life style wise than being employed. While it may not be much fun, you have a lot of time to sit on your couch eating Oreos and watching TV. Or spend a lot of time with your kids, visit and help family and friends, spend time on a hobby, do volunteer work, run a cash business or work an off the books grey market job to supplement the welfare.

          It can be quite a hump going from that to working a full time job doing something you don’t like for less income and paying taxes to boot.

          1. CharlesWT: “Being on welfare can already be a better deal financially and life style wise than being employed.”

            That’s generally more of an indictment of wages being low than welfare benefits being too high. I’ll agree the US welfare “system” is horribly designed, a patchwork of poorly thought-out measures. That patchwork does include its share of poverty traps (where benefits aren’t phased out, but suddenly go away when you have employment income, however crappy). It doesn’t mean that welfare benefits should be reduced (except as part of an overall restructuring), it means that a job should pay a living wage.

            CharlesWT: “While it may not be much fun, you have a lot of time to sit on your couch eating Oreos and watching TV.”

            Or maybe, living the high life in Hotel 22? Gee, I don’t think I could wait to give up my job to have the opportunity to sleep on a bus. The plural of anecdote is not data. The poor aren’t a crowd of Cadillac-driving welfare queens. Yes, there’s fraud in the welfare system (follows simply because you’ll find fraud in pretty much any human endeavor). That doesn’t mean that the majority should suffer for the misbehavior of a minority.

          2. While it may be illegal to do hair weaving, mow lawns, do plumbing, etc. for cash or working grey market jobs while on welfare, I personally don’t care. At least people are spending their time doing things beneficial for themselves and others.

          3. “I like food stamps, in part because we have an interest in kids getting fed, and food stamps put money into the hands of parents which can’t be spent on movie tickets or cocaine or beer, more likely to go into the mouths of children.”

            The government itself says there’s close to a billion dollars a year in fraud and abuse of SNAP. Things like people going into food stores and coming out with cash, instead of food. And who knows how much barter goes on for movie tickets or cocaine or beer, etc.

          4. The above was in replay to dave schutz below, but my internet connection keeps dropping and screwing things up 🙁

          5. A billion dollars a year in SNAP fraud? No wonder it is hard to keep middle managers at the Department of Health & Human Services: with fraud rates that low they must be getting grabbed left and right by Apple Retail, the Madison Ave fashion boutiques, etc for senior management positions.

            A billion dollars a year wouldn’t even pay for a thorough fraud audit of the F-35 program. Just sayin’

          6. Is it remotely true as Charles claims that you will do better financially by staying home and claiming benefits than by working full time? I’m inclined to doubt this.

            Also: low income workers face a big payroll tax bite, but also qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

          7. Charles –

            I am having some difficulty making sense of what you wrote, to wit, the claim that “being on welfare can already be a better deal financially …(*) than being employed.”

            First of all when you use the word “welfare”, do you mean SNAP benefits – the specific thing being discussed in this thread – or some more broadly amorphous category that includes other programs? If the latter, will you explicate them so that your claim can be better evaluated?

            In the meantime, I will note that exactly zero items on your list substantiate your “better deal financially” assertion as relates to “welfare”. Neither sitting on the couch, eating Oreos, spending time with one’s kids, visiting and/or helping family & friends, spending time on a (non-paying, I assume) hobby or doing volunteer work makes one better off money-wise. At least insofar as these kinds of things are usually done.

            The last two items, running a cash business or working off the books in a gray market job, are merely proven methods to engage in tax evasion/fraud. As such they have nothing to do with welfare. Anyone one working full or part time can engage in these practices. And many do.

            As a self-employed individual who saw their income almost completely evaporate after the fiscal crisis, I can tell you that it can also be quite a hump to see one’s middle class income sixth seventh’ed in the course of one fiscal year. I am very blessed to have family that helped me through the roughest part; otherwise I would’ve lost everything.

            (*) I’m eliding the “life style” wise portion of your claim, because it’s much more subjective in that different folks value different things in terms of lifestyle…

        2. SNAP benefits come to about $4 a day per person. Hoo-boy, high on the hog!

          Spending levels for SNAP need to be higher than they were before 2009 because we’re in a depression with mass unemployment. I know that the right-wing view is that unemployed people are without work because they’re lazy moochers, and starving them is merely condign punishment for their sloth. Many of the rest of us don’t agree.

          1. CharlesWT: “More than a few people are unemployed from the job they prefer, not the job they can do.”

            With three unemployed persons per job opening (about six per job opening if you use the U-6 numbers), that’s unlikely to be a major explanation, even in the hypothetical case of there being zero structural unemployment (i.e., where people just don’t have the skills to fill some of these jobs). You can’t squeeze water from a stone.

          2. Personally, I can’t get hired as either an accountant or a technical writer or a pizza deliverer or a security guard or pretty much anything in between. I’m not sure what else I’m supposed to try as that largely exhausts my marketable skills. Want to buy a novel that’s in its third draft?

        3. Brett: “Whether or not you think current levels are insufficient, it remains that current levels were supposed to be temporary.”

          That’s not a policy argument. That’s a “because that’s the way it was” argument. I take it that means that you don’t have a more substantive argument against sufficient welfare benefits because you keep dodging the question?

          Your problem is that you’re defending the indefensible, where it’s fine that your fellow Americans go hungry or where over a million children are homeless.

          Brett: “Honestly, I don’t think you’ll ever be happy with levels of welfare, so long as they’re not high enough to make being on welfare a better deal than being employed.”

          [Citation needed]

    2. The great thing about the food stamp program is that you first reduce the eligibility requirements, beginning in the Bush administration, to qualify for food stamps. Then, you activity recruit people into the program including people who hadn’t realized they qualified for or even needed food stamps. Then, when enrollment surges, you can point to that as proof that conditions for the poor are dire and even more needs to be done. What’s not to like? At least the plutocrats in the food industry should be happy. (“you” is not directed at any particular person or group.)

  3. I tried explaining the whole thing to some non-American friends. People should try that, because you can’t just say “Oh, Republicans” with people who haven’t accepted conservative cruelty as a given.

  4. They were ruined, when they were required to send laboring children to school; they were ruined, when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was suggested they need not always make quite so much smoke. Besides Mr. Bounderby’s gold spoon which was generally received in Coketown, another prevalent fiction was very popular there. It took the form of a threat. Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used—that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts—he was sure to come out with the awful menace, that he would ‘sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.’

    Charles Dickens
    Hard Times
    1854

    1. I’d been looking for that quote! Thanks. If I recall correctly, it goes on to point out that the mill owners’ property never was pitched into the Atlantic.

      1. You’re welcome, and you’re right. The passage continues: “This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions. However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it. So there it was, in the haze yonder; and it increased and multiplied.”

  5. Folks, it’s time to withdraw our consent. It’s time to stop living in fear, regain our dignity, and do so through ACTION, in recognition that our system has morphed into something new – the old rules and methods don’t work, “voting” is just a sham; there are no political solutions to this coming crisis.

    We need a mass, wide-scale repudiation and REFUSAL to play along any more. We must gird our loins, gather our courage and walk away. Let their system collapse in on itself. Yes, it will cause short-term pain, a flash of catastrophe across the boards, but then we will emerge into a new reality, one that recognizes that with modern technology being what it is, *scarcity is now artificial.*

    If we continue along the current trajectory, much of labor and the middle class will be rendered economically obsolete, and all the gains will concentrate in the hands of those who currently own capital. We must crash this trajectory; the need is more urgent that most people – and writers, public figures, etc. – realize.

    DEBTORS’ REVOLT — DEFAULT EN MASSE is the way to start.

  6. I think the Brett/Katja discussion is useful. Brett’s quite right that current levels were put in place with the idea that they would be temporary. Katja says they are insufficient. There’s no particular magic to current levels, it’s just the line where the troops fell in battle the last time they were set. The amounts in the Times article are a lot less than I spend for food for my family, so they seem low to me. I like food stamps, in part because we have an interest in kids getting fed, and food stamps put money into the hands of parents which can’t be spent on movie tickets or cocaine or beer, more likely to go into the mouths of children.

    Whether by design or happenstance, we have a pretty good system of incentives in the three streams: wages, SNAP, and EITC for lower-skilled people. EITC means that, if the limit of the surplus value you have the skills to deliver to an employer is as a burger flipper, not as a high end machinist, you will be topped up some for going to work for McD. This tips the work/welfare choice for low skill workers more towards work, that’s good. If McD doesn’t have to pay a living wage to people to get the burgers flipped, they will hire more flippers, and then the EITC-McD combination means fewer folks on welfare and shorter lines for fast food. Or EITC-Walmart, your demon employer of choice. SNAP as a supplement for the wage+EITC package adjusts for family size, so again it aims at the kids.

    Various people have written on their attempts to feed selves/family on the SNAP amounts, and generally the reports are lots of lentils and dayold bread, it’s not fun, but you don’t go hungry either. My kids would be furious (“No Tostitos?!”) Again,the amounts in the Times article sounded low to me, but I don’t see much discussion about what the right amount would be. I don’t think I have anything smart to say about that.

    1. Part of the problem, of course, is that the poor may simply lack the skills and knowledge needed to design healthy, really cheap meals. Perhaps we should come up with some kind of “People chow”, and issue cases of it, instead of food stamps.

      The results in terms of prenatal nutrition, (Which becomes important well before you may know you’re pregnant!) could be all out of proportion to the costs.

      1. That’s called WIC, Brett. And you’ll be glad to know Ryan has had that hammock in his sights since 2011.

        1. Trust me, if you shop in the cheapest supermarkets (as I do, though in my case from stinginess more than need), you’ll become quite aware of the many petty humiliations of WIC, learning of them in line at the checkout.

      2. Karl Kraus said, “When someone behaves like a beast, he says: ‘After all, one is only human.’ But when he is treated like a beast, he says, ‘After all, one is human.'” Brett, you propose treating human beings like beasts. Are you in fact human?

        Humiliating the poor is part of the program.

        1. I’m proposing to supply people who don’t pay for their own meals with nutritionally optimal slop, with the thought being, you want taste, pay for it yourself. You can call that treating people like animals if you like. I call it treating people who carry their own weight better than people who don’t. I think it’s really important, if you want people to carry their own weight, that carrying your own weight get you better treatment, not worse.

          But maybe you figure the poor carry their own weight every two years in the voting booth, and they deserve to be well paid for that work.

          1. “I call it treating people who carry their own weight better than people who don’t. I think it’s really important, if you want people to carry their own weight, that carrying your own weight get you better treatment, not worse.”

            because there’s nothing that could better demonstrate what a wonderful human being one is and what a humane society one represents than by mocking, mistreating, or humiliating people less well-off than we are.

            if i were to write a story with a character based on mr. bellmore’s utterances here no one would buy into the story because of the flatness of the character.

          2. So, people who don’t carry their own weight are supposed to get,

            1. Food, not only nutritious, but good tasting.
            2. Housing, not only adequate to prevent exposure, but nice.
            3. Respect.
            4. Medical care, and not just the most cost effective minimum, up to the standards most working people have to settle for.
            5. A hell of a lot more free time than people who work get.

            I miss anything? Cable TV? Video games?

            What’s left for them to get by working? They’re already living better than most of the human race managed for almost our entire existence as a species. They’re living better than the middle class in poor countries.

            You know who gets everything they need provided, without having to do anything to earn it except exist? Pets. You’re keeping the poor as pets, Nav. People are expected to work for a living. But, what do we ask of the poor? That they sweep the streets? Pick up the trash? Maybe build infrastructure like the CCC during the Great depression?

            No, none of this, because pets pay for their keep by just existing. The poor are your pets.

            Or, as I say, you’re paying them well for a job well done one day every two years.

          3. and mr. bellmore goes to the trouble of both missing my first point and proving my second point in the same response. and apparently he doesn’t have enough self-awareness to realize it either. that’s just sad.

          4. Ah, if only liberals didn’t regard the failure to comprehend any other viewpoint as proving their virtue, we might actually be able to have an intelligent discussion occasionally.

          5. 58% of snap recipents work. most of the rest are either children or elderly. so your 5th point is fallacious on its face.

          6. = = = Brett Bellmore @ 3:22 am: Ah, if only liberals didn’t regard the failure to comprehend any other viewpoint as proving their virtue, we might actually be able to have an intelligent discussion occasionally.= = =

            and

            = = = Brett Bellmore @ 2:53 am: You know who gets everything they need provided, without having to do anything to earn it except exist? Pets. You’re keeping the poor as pets, Nav. People are expected to work for a living. But, what do we ask of the poor? That they sweep the streets? Pick up the trash? Maybe build infrastructure like the CCC during the Great depression? No, none of this, because pets pay for their keep by just existing. The poor are your pets.= = =

            29 minutes. That’s a record in unselfconscious irony even for Mr. Bellmore.

            Cranky

          7. mr. bellmore apparently can only regard the poor in terms of animals to be either mistreated deliberately to to better show them their second-class status or as pets the evil left-wingers doing their bidding in exchange good treatment. he does not seem able to see the innate human dignity of each individual or the fact that the poor are no less moral agents capable of all of the joys and pains, whether fine or gross, that humanity has at its disposal. as much as he irritates me i also pity him cramped inside the claustrophobic confines of that mind of his.

          8. Speaking of carrying their own weight…

            Not a single executive I’ve ever heard of is “carrying the weight” that earns them 8-figure salaries. No one’s efforts, no matter how good a manager they are, could possibly be worth thousands of dollars an hour.

            I’d say the place to start cutting at this point is not where people have already been cut to the bone, but at the top, where’s there’s still tons of fat hanging on the bones of the average corporate executive.

          9. Brett,

            My father worked for more than 60 years of his life. He pulled his weight (and more, besides) for that period.

            Are you proposing to place him on the ice floe and wave good bye as the berg floats out to sea?

          10. How are the families on food aid not carrying their weight?

            This is an honest question, Brett. I would like a specific answer. Please include as many details or examples as you wouldlike to support your premise.

            Charles WT or any others who agree that the people re not carrying their own weight, please weight in also with what supports your view.

    2. “I like food stamps, in part because we have an interest in kids getting fed, and food stamps put money into the hands of parents which can’t be spent on movie tickets or cocaine or beer, more likely to go into the mouths of children.”

      The government itself says there’s close to a billion dollars a year in fraud and abuse of SNAP. Things like people going into food stores and coming out with cash, instead of food. And who knows how much barter goes on for movie tickets or cocaine or beer, etc.

      1. Who knows, indeed. Or how much of that cash was spent on the electric bill, or for shoes.
        I guess there are two ways to look at this shocking finding. On the one hand, we could admire the poor for creatively emulating the morals of the rich even without offshore tax havens and fancy lawyers, so as to raise themselves up the scale of merit. One the other hand, we could infer that they simply haven’t been starved enough to behave themselves, and we need to double down on the cruelty until they set us the appropriate example: continue the beatings until morale improves!

        1. “Who knows, indeed. Or how much of that cash was spent on the electric bill, or for shoes.”

          I have no problem with people using the resources they have to their best advantage. If they don’t use them in the way the government intended, that’s the government’s problem.

      2. “The government itself says there’s close to a billion dollars a year in fraud and abuse of SNAP.”

        The Republicans want to cut more than four times that amount.

      3. = = = CharlesWT @ 10:28 am: The government itself says there’s close to a billion dollars a year in fraud and abuse of SNAP. = = =

        I have a hard time believing that. One billion dollars per year would be an incredibly low rate of fraud for a program as large as SNAP, and while government aid programs generally have far less fraud and abuse than private charities there is probably a bit more in SNAP that that (again, given its size and normal ‘shrinkage’ rates in any large entity private or public). Still, I have not doubt SNAP’s program design and managers are doing an excellent job in minimizing fraud and I thank CharlesWT for pointing that out.

        Cranky

    3. “If McD doesn’t have to pay a living wage to people to get the burgers flipped, they will hire more flippers,”

      McD will hire more flippers when they’re selling so many burgers that they need more flippers to meet the demand, and not a second before.

      1. Kate: where is Ned Ludd when we need ‘im??? http://www.gizmag.com/hamburger-machine/25159/ a burger flipping machine! This will now establish a top for what burger flipping wages can be: cost of purchase/maintenance of the machine.

        Charles WT: yes, you are right, that people can trade potatoes for cocaine in the supermarket parking lot. Still, SNAP makes it at least more complicated to divert from your children the food which Congress thinks it is giving them. I personally support spending money to make sure that people don’t starve, and I don’t want to pay taxes to buy people cocaine.

        1. The burger flipping machine was the basis of Burger King’s production process. It’s called a continuous chain broiler, a steel mesh conveyor belt that carries the meat over an open gas flame (therefore, not really a grill, which works by radiant heat –it’s more of a continuous chain boiler) and then dumps it upside down onto another one. ). It’s one of the many reasons Burger King could never compete successfully with McDonalds, really cool inappropriate inflexible technology. Consider: “have it your way”, but BK cannot deliver a rare burger ever if they want to, while it’s easy on McD’s griddle. How do you cook an egg (expand menu into breakfast) on a steel mesh conveyor belt? Etc.

        2. people can trade potatoes for cocaine in the supermarket parking lot.

          MIght I ask what the potato-cocaine exchange rate is, and exactly how many potatoes and sacks of beans your typical cocaine dealer is likely to accept before demanding cash from subsequent buyers?

        3. We always need Nedd Ludd, but not to smash the machines that displace sweated labor: instead, to argue that as the machines are brought in our society must not abandon to impoverished uselessness the people being displaced. Surely people hunching unnecessarily over a griddle is nothing to be treasured and preserved – but we must find something better for them to do.

  7. ” the poor may simply lack the skills and knowledge needed to design healthy, really cheap meals”.

    You could substitute “time and access” for “skills and knowledge”, but that wouldn’t be nearly as contemptuous (or do I mean contemptible?). Of course, since neither of us are citing any facts, we’re both just stating our impressions of what we’d like “the poor” (that unified bloc from Appalachia to Detroit) to be. You’d prefer them to be stupid; I prefer them to be unfortunate.

  8. The problem with SNAP is not that the benefit level is too low; it’s that there are still plenty of people who qualify and who need this benefit, but who don’t know they’re eligible or are afraid to apply. A dear friend who did apply was (through no fault of her own) awarded too much money in SNAP dollars; many months later when the bureaucracy discovered its mistake, they garnished her meager wages. She will never have anything to do with SNAP again. While she was on SNAP, I realized that the benefit was actually quite generous; we were spending the same amount (me in cash; she in SNAP benefit) to feed the same number of family members. And we were all eating well.

    1. I have a good friend who lost his job. And asa result many other things. He applied for food stamps and was approved. The benefits weren’t actually that generous.

      ((1*) +1 anecdote) + ((1*) -1 anecdote) = 0

      I will say he also doesn’t want to have anything to with the program again. But this owes to his embarrassment about the situation.

    2. Let’s dig into that a bit more.

      The maximum SNAP benefits for a single person are $200/month and will be lowered to $187/month (i.e., about $6/day). This is frugal (though hardly what I’d call eating well), but can be sufficient to get by if (1) everything else about your life is normal, (2) you are actually getting the maximum. The problem is that one or both of these may not hold.

      “Normal” means that you have a cheap supermarket in walking distance, or have/can afford a car/public transit to get there, the time to invest in order to do bargain food shopping (not always a given if you work two part-time minimum wage jobs, have a two hour commute, are disabled, old, etc.).

      For example, a common problem is that a person may not only depend on SNAP benefits, but also be homeless. And without a stove or microwave (because, say, you live in a car), your ability to prepare inexpensive food is drastically curtailed. Allergies that limit your food choices are another frequent problem.

      Add to that the fact that many people may not be getting the maximum SNAP benefits because they have additional disposable income (the majority of non-disabled SNAP recipients are working). That’s all fine and good as long as that income is actually disposable. The problem is that poor people rarely have such a smooth income situation. Poverty is usually the consequence of one or more catastrophic life events; if you deal with the aftermath of a divorce, or the death of a relative, or unexpected unemployment suddenly turning your cash flow upside down, that’s hardly a given. SNAP asset tests in particular make it virtually certain that recipients have next to no financial buffer to deal with unexpected catastrophic events. Something as simple as a broken car, for example, quickly becomes an existential threat.

      All of the above, of course, also assumes that poor families and individuals always make optimal decisions with perfect information. In reality, this is yet another problem. The average poor person is not an MBA who is temporarily down on his or her luck; more likely, it’s somebody with a never-diagnosed learning disability who was spit out by a poor inner city school before graduation; on top of that, after life has kicked you in the teeth a few times, your decision-making ability has generally been impaired by stress and/or depression. That’s aside from the negative effect that poverty can have on IQ.

      In the end, reality is pretty simple: most SNAP recipients run out of benefits before the end of the month is up.

  9. I have a client whose prior application for SNAP was refused in 2008 or so because her Social Security and her husband’s SSDI (brain aneurism and stroke) put them a few dollars over the limit – regulars swells, these toffs, what with the tens of thousands of Rx bills and medical copays every year — and who didn’t realize that the increased Medicare premiums meant that she should reapply until I told her.

    Her biggest item of discretionary spending is her church giving. So I think that, rather than feeding her soylent brown or whatever cruelty that asshole Bellmore has in mind, we should instead pass a law making it illegal for any tax-exempt religious institution to accept any money whatsoever, whether disguised as a purchase of goods and services or given as a gift, from people on any form of public assistance.

    1. “…, we should instead pass a law making it illegal for any tax-exempt religious institution to accept any money whatsoever, whether disguised as a purchase of goods and services or given as a gift, from people on any form of public assistance.”

      We should pass a law making it illegal for any political party to accept any money whatsoever from people on any form of public assistance.

      1. Why do you want to disenfranchise the few farmers we have left? And charitable donors who take deductions? Investment bankers with a carried interest tax deal? I don’t always agree with the way these folks spend their political money, but if you do this you’re going to have very quiet elections unless we go to public funding.

      2. “We should pass a law making it illegal for any political party to accept any money whatsoever from people on any form of public assistance.”

        Not only farmers, but energy companies, Wall St, and a whole host of the ‘makers’.

  10. Michael, I have really wondered about the refusal of so many states to accept the Medicaid expansion. I finally decided that the plutocrats and wealthy who run the states simply do not want the federal government to step in between them and the people they oppress and plunder.

    That’s been the attitude and upper class culture of the Southern states and the Appalachian states since before the Revolution. It grew much worse when the cotton gin permitting the separation of cotton fibers from seeds much more cheaply was invented in 1793 making cotton the first really massive international commodity that went into international consumer goods (low cost cotton cloth) putting both India and China out of the cotton cloth business.

    The majority of the wealthy in the U.S. up to the Civil War were plantation and slave owners in the Southern states. Because of the 3/5’s rule in the Constitution these people dominated the federal government until the Civil War. Because Reconstruction failed (Lincoln’s assassination was a major reason for that) the control of the federal government by the South did not really shift until the Great Depression. Kim Phillips-Fein’s book “Invisible Hands: The Businessman’s Crusade Against the New Deal” describes the efforts of those plutocrats to return to power, and the Reagan Revolution was its result.

    For those plutocrats to let the federal government provide direct benefits to the citizens without going through state, corporate or religious hierarchical intermediaries will mean that those plutocrats have ceased to wield the national power and the unfettered local power they have had except during war time. {During the Civil War, WW I and WW II the federal government took direct control of the economy. The threat of the USSR from the time of the Berlin Airlift extended that control into the 60’s, when the Reagan Revolution people used the expansion of the military industrial complex to help regain their control of the American economy. (Just because the CIA never admitted they knew the USSR was economically unable to support their military did not mean the business executives missed that shift in the 70’s.)

    The timing of the Bush 43 takeover shows them coming back. That was after the existential threat to the U.S. from the USSR was clearly over.

    1. Perhaps you could stop wondering, and simply ask, instead of inventing explanations to justify your hatred?

      Here’s a simple explanation: Federal money never comes without strings attached. More like bridge cables, great things as thick around as a barrel, of high strength steel.

      A standard practice of the federal government is to tax the inhabitants of a state to the point where the state itself dares not tax them enough itself to pay for it’s own operations, and then offer the money to the state if the state will only comply with a long list of demands. A list which grows with time.

      A list, where if you balk on even one item, the whole sum gets taken away. But your citizens still get taxed, the money just gets sent elsewhere.

      A lot of states are sick of this, and they don’t want to get any further on the hook. They don’t want to take any more money with strings attached. They just want the federal government to stick to it’s own business, and stop taxing away their revenue base, and then offering a bit of it back with conditions.

      1. = = = A standard practice of the federal government is to tax the inhabitants of a state to the point where the state itself dares not tax them enough itself to pay for it’s own operations, and then offer the money to the state if the state will only comply with a long list of demands. A list which grows with time. = = =

        Mr. Bellmore is seemingly unaware of the state-by-state net flows of federal cash since the end of slavery. Here’s a hint: as a general rule, hard Radical Right Republican states receive far, far more than they pay in federal taxes and have done since 1870.

        Cranky

    2. Rick,

      The federal government does not solely pay for Medicaid. It is a jointly funded program between the states and the federal government. The amount picked up by the federal government is about 57% (but varies from state to state). Some of the states not accepting the expansion, because it increases their obligation as well.

      Your understanding of Appalachia is off base. Cotton isn’t even grown in the Appalachian region.

      1. in the case of the aca medicaid expansion, the federal government will pay 100% of the expansion until 2017 and then 90% of the expansion until 2022. the states that are declining the expansion are leaving a lot of money on the table and a lot of suffering in their borders.

        1. And after 2022, the deluge? States aren’t supposed to care that far out?

          Here’s what the states refusing the expansion had to say:

          “Medicaid Expansion Curtailed

          The court’s ruling on Medicaid took away one of the federal government’s primary inducements to get states to participate in its expanded health coverage for the very poor. The law would have allowed the government to withhold all Medicaid money to states that didn’t go along with its expansion to cover people who earned up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $31,000 for a family of four.

          Today, about 60 million people are enrolled in the program, mostly children, pregnant women and the elderly, and the expansion would have added another 17 million. Roberts said that Congress had not revised an existing program, but essentially created a whole new one, and therefore was not entitled to yank longstanding funding for states that wouldn’t go along with the changes.

          “The financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen is much more than ‘relatively mild encouragement’—it is a gun to the head,” Roberts wrote. “The threatened loss of over 10 percent of a State’s overall budget … is economic dragooning that leaves the States with no real option but to acquiesce in the Medicaid expansion.”

          The law calls for the federal government to pick up all the costs of the Medicaid expansion from 2014 to 2016. After that, states would gradually start having to pay a portion, but the federal government’s share would not fall below 90 percent.

          Within several hours of the decision, Republican officials in several states had said they were inclined to turn down new federal money because they could not afford to pick up their eventual share.

          Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey said Missouri won’t take federal money to expand Medicaid since the state would have to add in more than $100 million a year starting in 2017.. “I don’t see any chance of that happening,” he said. “It’s just not a sustainable option.”

          Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said in a statement that he would forego the money.

          “If this unfunded Medicaid expansion is implemented, state aid to education and funding for the University of Nebraska will be cut or taxes will be increased,” he said. “If some state senators want to increase taxes or cut education funding, I will oppose them.”

          Maxine Bell, Republican chairwoman of Idaho’s House Appropriations Committee, said her state will likely skip the expansion.

          “I assume we can’t pursue it [the expansion] because we can barely afford what we’re doing now,” she said. “I can’t imagine where we’ll find the revenue.”

          Tate Reeves, Mississippi’s lieutenant governor, said his state’s share of the expansion would add almost 400,000 new enrollees and cost the state an estimated $1.7 billion over the next 10 years. “Mississippi taxpayers simply cannot afford that cost, so our state is not inclined to drastically expand Medicaid,” said Reeves, a Republican.”

          1. It costs the state of Mississippi more than that to have so many poor people without health insurance. Mr. Reeves is making the classic conservative mistake of counting costs without accounting for benefits.

      2. Medicaid remains mostly federal, to include the regulations that control the services covered in the base program. Without the federal government the deep South states like Mississippi would have a much smaller program of aid to the hospitalized.

        I included the Appalachian states because they are culturally similar to the cotton growing states, not because they were cotton growing states themselves. However, the cotton gin permitted cotton cloth to become a world-wide low-cost consumer good. The result was that in those states which could grow cotton it created a financial boom, much like the recent boom in sub-prime mortgages. The majority of wealthy individuals in the U.S. before the Civil War were plantation owners who grew slave cotton. The slaves were both extremely cheap labor and were also the main asset when plantation owners used to pledge to the banks for the bank loans required to grow the annual cotton crop. Land was nearly free, so it did not carry the necessary market value to support the required bank loans needed to grow the annual crop. The difficulty the plantation owners had was that they had to pay the yearly costs of growing the cotton but only got paid after it was harvested and sold.

  11. “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

    John Kenneth Galbraith

    “We find our population suffering from old inequalities, little changed by vast sporadic remedies. In spite of our efforts and in spite of our talk, we have not weeded out the over privileged and we have not effectively lifted up the underprivileged. Both of these manifestations of injustice have retarded happiness.

    No wise man has any intention of destroying what is known as the profit motive; because by the profit motive we mean the right by work to earn a decent livelihood for ourselves and for our families.

    We have, however, a clear mandate from the people, that Americans must forswear that conception of the acquisition of wealth which, through excessive profits, creates undue private power over private affairs and, to our misfortune, over public affairs as well. In building toward this end we do not destroy ambition, nor do we seek to divide our wealth into equal shares on stated occasions.

    We continue to recognize the greater ability of some to earn more than others. But we do assert that the ambition of the individual to obtain for him and his a proper security, a reasonable leisure, and a decent living throughout life, is an ambition to be preferred to the appetite for great wealth and great power.”

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1935

  12. Prof. O’Hare, thank you so much for this post!!! I was wondering where the outrage was and I feel much better.

    Also, thanks to those who bother to argue with Brett. I suppose someone has to do it. There was a nice little piece in the NYT Review section about a liberal who had made some new friends who were conservative. He seemed to conclude what I have observed as well — that it is a conservative habit to think badly of poor people they don’t know — that is, to assume they have done something wrong or they would not be poor, and thus, must be punished — and to think less badly of the poor they do know. He noted that there is a similar bias among some liberals — that to be a conservative, one must necessarily have a hard heart. In the abstract, I still think this is generally true, but, at least when you know one personally, you get to see all the ways that person actually generously departs from their bleeped-up ideas in their actual life. Which makes them not only tolerable, but lovable. I can’t say I’ve achieved this here yet, but every now and then you see a glimmer. Not today though.

    Anyway, thanks again Professor! I used to be one of your students and I’m sorry to say, I appreciate you a he** of a lot more now than I did at the time. I missed out, clearly. So I’m glad you’re here now.

  13. Oh, and btw, it’s obvious what we need to do. I don’t think most Americans are clued-in enough to even think of a debt strike. But, we could sure as sh** primary some of our people. Maybe La Clinton (and I realize, this is a pretty much unjustified swipe at her. *Maybe* she won’t turn out to be a blue dog.)

    What do we have to lose?

  14. I often find myself discussing people I know and respect, people who are personally generous (even to the extreme) but feel that government ‘generosity’, i.e., food stamps, is a terrible idea. However, they don’t have any sort of structural solution for the problem of poverty and food insecurity.

    1. Don’t know that you’d call it “structural”, but I have long thought that we should ditch every last “assistance” program, and replace them with a new Civil Conservation Corps. That the government should never just give somebody help, but instead be the employer of last resort, with work that’s unpleasant enough, and badly enough compensated, that it really IS a last resort, from which flipping burgers would be a step up.

      Just giving people aid, no matter how much they might need it, is a really bad idea.

      Unless, of course, your party’s success is reliant on the existence of a large dependent class who’ll reliably vote for you to keep the dole coming, of course.

      1. And verily Brett Bellmore refutes Milton Friedman and Winston Churchill, among other philosophers of the human condition and structure of government. Truly an exceptional individual in his generation.

        Cranky

      2. “That the government should never just give somebody help, but instead be the employer of last resort, with work that’s unpleasant enough, and badly enough compensated, that it really IS a last resort, from which flipping burgers would be a step up.”

        your fantasies of dominance and subservience as related on this site are starting to make me concerned about the physical and emotional welfare of anyone in physical and emotional proximity to you. you are revealing much more about yourself than i think you realize.

      3. Yes, especially when the recipients of the aid are children. Who knows how they’ll misuse the food aid they get.

        I appreciate that giving aid without any expectations can lead to dependence, but that is not a good argument against food stamps or other social welfare programs.

  15. I’ll stack our pinched, selfish, cruel, twisted, afraid folk up against any in the world, at any time in history! Go Team USA!

  16. Anyone seeking food support should realize that if they die of hunger, they are better off than being slaves, or….is white america wrong?
    Should I own poor people?

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