Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Caviar, Crab Legs and Cashews Paid By You

Two interesting stories on federal programs to feed the poor caught my eye in the last few days.

It seems the U.S. Department of Agriculture has turned down a request by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City to implement a pilot program that would not permit food stamps to be used to buy soft drinks.  New York City wanted to see if an experimental ban on soft drinks in the food stamp program would assist in their efforts to fight obesity and increase nutrition in the nation's largest city.

The USDA stated that the experiment would be "too large and complex" to implement and evaluate.

The food stamp program now has approximately 46 million recipients.  That is up almost 50% since President Obama took office.

This article brought to my mind what is the real objective of food stamps?  To relieve hunger and provide good nutrition would seem to be the prime objectives.  Decades ago, William F. Buckley wrote a piece in which he noted that poor people could be given those things with a diet of bulgur wheat, beans and lard that the government could provide in bulk in a section of every grocery store.  All free to anyone who wanted it.  No frills to be sure but it would get the job done with a fraction of the cost and bureaucracy of the food stamp program.

I am not suggesting anything so draconian but it seems that something is amiss. When someone can go into a grocery store and purchase caviar, crab legs and cashews with taxpayer money, and most of the taxpayers footing the bill would never think of buying these with their own money, we should be rethinking our approach.  I have seen or been told stories of each of these purchases.

Bakery cakes, cookies and candy are also eligible purchases for food stamp recipients.  In fact, most everything that is edible in a grocery store is eligible under the food stamp program except for hot, prepared meal items. Cigarettes and alcohol are excluded but someone can buy the caviar and crab legs and sell them for .50 on the dollar to someone else, take the cash and do anything they want with it (like buy their tobacco and beer).

The USDA says that it is too complicated to try to segregate food items but the federal government requires that chain drug stores and pharmacies code what is eligible for FSA and HSA accounts in their inventory systems.  Why can't it also be done with food items?

I am all for helping people.  However, welfare and public assistance is supposed to be a helping hand to get someone back on their feet.  We don't want people in need but we also don't need people who are content with their circumstances.  This country was built by people who were not content with their situation.  Eating caviar and crab legs is likely to make you a little too content.  Are eating Cheetos really the best way to meet our objectives of feeding the poor?

Just for discussion how about a plan like this? It would be built around 3 tiers much like most prescription drug plans.

Tier 1-Fresh vegetables, fruits, flour, rice and other natural ingredients could be purchased at a 50% discount with food stamps
Tier 2-Most food items would carry the regular price in food stamps
Tier 3-Candy, soft drinks, junk food, caviar, crab legs, cashews, bakery cakes and other luxury items would require a 100% surcharge.  The Tier 3 surcharge pays for the Tier 1 discount.

I have said it before and I will say it again.  We need new thinking and new ideas.  What we have now is not working.  We need to fix this country with new approaches.  This might not be the best plan but there has to be something better than we have right now.

A second story involves a $4.5 billion expansion of the "The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act" which will provide free lunches to ALL students in the Detroit school system.  That is right, ALL-rich, poor, needy, non-needy, of Detroit's 66,000 students.  This expansion is ultimately supposed to cover all schools across the country if at least 62.5% of a school district's families are below 130% of the federal poverty level.

What is the logic behind this expansion?  Quoting from the article in The Corner by Henry Payne
This new program is part of Obama’s orgy of spending, a binge that has ballooned the federal budget by 25 percent since his inauguration. But the program’s logic is even more insane than the price tag: The administration says it is giving rich kids free food to eliminate the shame that less-fortunate students may feel in receiving free food. We’re not making this up.
“We’ve worked very hard to reduce the stigma,” Aaron Lavallee, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman, told the Detroit News. “We’re seeing a lot of working-class families who’ve had to turn to free school meals to feed their children.”
“Now all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay,” says Mark Schrupp, Detroit Public Schools COO. “Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals.”
78% of students in Detroit already qualify for free lunches based on the guidelines.  It would seem that the only kids (and parents) that had their feelings hurt were the 1 of the 5 that had to pay than being the 4 of the 5 that did not have to pay.

Please remember that we are borrowing all of this money to buy these school lunches and pay for the cavair, crab legs and cashews while we also hear that there is absolutely nothing that can be cut in the federal budget.

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