Sunday, September 18, 2011

Brief Reflections on Food Stamps

Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal documented the record increase in the use of Food Stamps. Since 2007, use has increased by 59% until nearly 1 in 7 Americans is a recipient and the costs have more than doubled. I will start by saying that this is not a black-and-white issue. On one hand, I am thankful that the safety has expanded to protect Americans during a severe economic downturn. On the other hand, this development poses troubling economic and cultural  implications and should invite serious questions, each of which merits at least a separate article:

Distribution of Expenditures: There are many frugal and responsible families whose income is insufficient to  purchase basic food items; they clearly merit food assistance. However, there are also many cases in which the problem is not total income, but distribution of expenditures. In other words, their systemic  purchase of non-essential items have left them unable to purchase food and other essential goods and services. For example, previous section-8 tenant of mine had a flat screen TV, cable, Nintendo, a leather couch and other such items. In such cases, government assistance indirectly amounts to a subsidy of luxury items. A more frugal and conscientious government would declare that those purchasing luxury items would be ineligible for federal assistance. In practice, this may be difficult to administer, but it would be nice if some government administrators at least acknowledged the necessity of greater vigilance. 

Subsidy of Injudicious Food Selection: During a particularly slow month of business, I judiciously reduced my food expenditures, which actually led to an improvement in the quality of my diet. To start off with, I cut back on red meat, condiments and processed foods (like sugary breakfast cereals) and shifted to affordable fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish. This leads me to believe that a certain percentage of recipients could afford food on their own and improve their health if they reformed their food purchase patterns. Here is a brief sample of healthy, affordable dishes that could last a family of 4 for nearly a week for only $58.57. In these examples, I am using and Aldi's to generate the price of items:

-16 oz. bag of dry lentils for $1.59.

-1 lbs of cauliflower for $0.98.

-salad: lettuce $1.69, 2 onions  $1.98, 3 tomatoes $1.48 and if we factor in home made dressing $6.00.

-two 8 packs of Aldi's  tilapia for $9.98.

-8 cans of sardines for $12.00.

-a dozen eggs for $2.29.

-cooking oil for $1.79.

-salt for $1.50.

-42 oz. of oatmeal for $3.99 for 42 oz. and 1 gallon of milk for $2.99, total of $6.98.

-5 lbs of grapefruit for $5.99.

-10 bananas for $3.90.

-and to show I am not heartless we can throw in a pack of cookies for $4.99

This comes to $57.99, add in the 1% sales tax for food in Cook County and the grand total is $58.57.

Long Term Expansion of Entitlement Addiction: Nearly 50% of children and 91% of children in single parent households are expected to receive food stamps sometime before their 20th birthday. I am confident that over time this will lead to an ever larger number of Americans who will receive their livelihood through government assistance. In no way am I calling for the elimination of safety nets. Rather, I urge our "leaders" and the electorate to be cautious about swelling the ranks of those who dependent on the state. Expanding the number of net tax consumers, while increasing the number of net tax producers is a recipe for further expanding our already ballooning national debt. And eroding the next generation's sense of self sufficiency and industry does not bode well for the cultural and spiritual health of the nation.

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