Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Food Stamp Nation

“I’ve got two children,” she says. “I’ve got to have food.”

So do 46 million other Americans. In fact, if the Americans using food stamps constituted a country, they would be the 27th largest nation in the world.

In the first minutes of each month, food stamp purchases at 24-hour Wal-Marts across the country surge as those relying upon food stamps drives through the dark to purchase sorely needed food.

“Our sales for those first few hours on the first day of the month are substantially and significantly higher,” Wal-Mart CEO William S. Simon told a Goldman Sachs conference 18 months ago. “If you really think about it, the only reason somebody goes out in the middle of the night and buys baby formula is that they need it — and they’ve been waiting for it.” Studies show that food stamps typically last only 17.5 days

Launched under Kennedy , first as a pilot project and later permanently by Johnson as part of his “War on Poverty,” food stamps (technically known as the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has been supported by the American agricultural sector keen to have more markets for its produce, as well as liberals and conservatives. These days, program is now under attack. The federal program currently costs taxpayers about $75 billion annually — a point of mounting criticism among conservatives who contend that their tax dollars are being parceled out to people who, they believe, are not contributing to America.

New York City (and the state of Arizona) insist on finger-imaging technology, the digital equivalent to fingerprinting, to verify food recipients. Some recipients feel that process treats them like criminals.New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg contends that for “people who are receiving things, rather than dedicating their lives to make it better, this is hardly something that’s a great imposition or that anyone should feel stigmatized about.”

“If you ask a liberal, all of these people on food stamps are oppressed — people who got screwed by the elite,” says Syracuse University political scientist Jeffrey Stonecash. “If you ask a conservative, these are simply people who made choices, like deciding not to continue their education.” How Americans view food stamps now, “is entirely a function of one’s ideology,” he says. Seeking political advantage, Gingrich is making a direct appeal to that part of American society that is now angry, explains Stonecash, people who have lost their homes, their retirement accounts, who have worked hard and now think, “there’s this vast welfare state out there that is consuming huge amounts of money.”

At the beginning of last year Texas had the most citizens enrolled in the program with more than 3.5 million people; California was number two at 3.3 million and New York state ranked third with 2.8 million. To be eligible, an individual must not make more than $14,088 per year. A person with a family of four can’t have a household income exceeding $28,668. The average payout isn’t handsome: individuals get $133 per month while families average $290.

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