I’m all for food assistance. I’m not for junk food and luxury assistance.
I’ve tried to make it a rule of thumb that if I’m typing furiously because someone is wrong on the internet and I hit two line breaks, it’s time to just blog it. I don’t always remember. You’re welcome.
I remembered this time. Sorry, not sorry.
As Gentle Reader is probably all too keenly aware, the nefarious forces in the Hall of Doom are trying to make the poors eat what they’re told.
Let’s start where the likely reader and I are likely to agree. Our present administration is a mockery of good governance. That’s probably the gentlest thing I’ve ever said about it.
And let’s probably agree that if we didn’t waste so much money on a bloated military budget, we wouldn’t need to quibble over billions here and billions there for everything from SNAP to education to healthcare in some perverse artificially-induced zero sum game.
But right now, in particular, I’m probably going to run afoul of all manner of decent folk. It seems to be a habit with me.
I’m all for food assistance. I’m not for junk food and luxury assistance. From a Food and Nutrition Service page at the USDA website:
Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items
If a recipient wants to spend three of their limited SNAP dollars on a Snickers bar and a bottle of Code Red, that is currently a legal option. It could even be an energy drink, instead, provided it has a nutrition facts label rather than a supplement facts label.
Energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label are eligible foods
Energy drinks that have a supplement facts label are classified by the FDA as supplements, and are therefore not eligible
If the Journal of Caffeine Research is to be trusted:
Numerous policymakers at the federal, state and local levels, as well as physicians, lawyers, and public health experts, have called for stricter regulation of energy drinks.2,5,14–16 Most recently, in March 2013, a group of eighteen physicians and public health officials urged the FDA to limit the caffeine content of energy drinks and require caffeine content on their labels.15 Others have called for limitations on the marketing or sale of energy drinks to minors.14
This is what is presently allowed in my category of “purchases of dubious merit.”
What’s not allowed? Purely decorative gourds, for instance. Gotta draw the line somewhere, right?
I’d just as soon that hypothetical $3 of ill-considered purchasing power went to someone who would use it for actual food instead. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a hardass. Those are luxury items. I feel the same about high-end actual food items. Does the recipient want to spend $10 on a steak instead of 2-3 lbs of ground beef? Earn it.
The point behind the program is to keep people fed, not feeding them above their pay grade.
Since I’m clearly a bad person, just consider. Let’s just say a benefits recipient only spent $3 one time on a Snickers bar and a bottle of Mountain Dew. As per Politifact (on one of the few occasions Trump wasn’t completely full of shit), there are 43 million people receiving SNAP benefits. That’s $129 million on candy bars and soda, you know, just that once.
From HuffPo: “Of the one-in-five Americans who participated in a program like Medicaid or food stamps from 2009 through 2012, the Census Bureau reported this week, 56 percent stopped participating within 36 months, while 43 percent lingered between three and four years. Nearly one-third quit receiving benefits within one year.”
So let’s just be really generous in our napkin math and work with 43 million people only receiving benefits for one year rather than 36 months or 48 months, even though more people (38.6%) remained on SNAP benefits for between 37 and 48 months than those (30.4%) who were on the program for only 1-12 months. Calling 1 year all around sound fair enough?
Since we don’t know how many people receiving SNAP actually buy soda and candy with the benefit, let’s not go haywire and assume it’s all. Or even half. Or even a quarter. Let’s say 10%. That’s 4.3 million people. Considering American consumer habits generally, I think that’s a safe, low, low number.
Since we’re being so reasonable, let’s also consider that people generally like some kind of a treat once in a while, not just that one time ever. Is that a fair understatement? Let’s not assume it’s an every day thing, either, or even a weekly thing. Just once a month. A bottle of soda and a candy bar. For a year. That’s only $36. Big whoop.
Times 4.3 (very low estimate) million out of the total 43 million SNAP recipients. Even with that low hypothetical participation in unhealthy food choices, we still hit $154.8 million of hard to come by budget money for candy and pop.
But for that waste, that’s $154.8 million of SNAP assistance that could have been made available to more people.
According to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “On average, SNAP households received about $254 a month in fiscal year 2017.” According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average monthly SNAP benefits per participant in 2015 came to $127.57. I think that accords well with CBPP’s number if a household is often a single parent with one child. Are we still on safe ground here?
$154,800,000 broken up into $127 chunks comes out to 1,218,897 benefit months. With 12 months in the year, that’s 101,574 benefit years. Divide that by two, and that’s another 50,787 parent/child recipients that could be added to the program, but for candy bars and soda.
And those are the lowball estimates.
I don’t expect to win converts on this issue. It’s an emotional issue, after all. But I do hope that those who defend including candy and soda in the program are comfortable with who really foots that expense…50,787 other 2-person households.
I might be a horrible person now, but I hope I can be forgiven for thinking the dignity of those other potential 50,787 households has a greater value than the dignity of someone on assistance depriving them of food so they can have a treat instead. Added bonus, those funds go, indirectly, to supporting the candy and soda industries. That’s a nice subsidy if your lobbyist can get it for you and sell it as a good idea to the American voter.
Should I run numbers closer to the middle of the ranges, which I expect would reflect reality better, or would that just be gratuitously mean?