Across the country, states are courting participants for food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) even has a webpage dedicated to helping states create “SNAP Outreach Plans.”
The argument from the USDA is that “Food Stamps Make America Stronger” by stimulating states’ economies. States are responding to the call. According to The Washington Post: “Rhode Island hosts SNAP-themed bingo games for the elderly. Alabama hands out fliers that read: ‘Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home.’ Three states in the Midwest throw food-stamp parties where new recipients sign up en masse.” And Florida even employs recruiters.
The recruiter profiled in the Post’s story, Dillie Nerios, is required to get “at least 150 seniors” to enroll in “food stamps each month, a quota she usually exceeds.”
“Help is available. You deserve it. So, yes or no?” she tells prospective food stamp recipients. “State-issued training manuals” even provides responses she can use when individuals protest.
Not surprisingly, food stamp enrollment in Florida has swelled in the past four years, rising from 1.45 million in 2008 to 3.35 million in 2012.
Policy changes over the years have also helped swell the numbers. For example, in 2000, the Clinton Administration broadened food stamp eligibility by allowing states to weaken income limits and waive asset limits. Then, in 2009, President Obama suspended food stamp work requirements for able-bodied adults. This was to be a temporary change, but he’s continued to allow states to waive work requirements.
The underlying mentality of all of this is one that completely overlooks helping individuals achieve self-sufficiency, instead promoting government dependence.
The U.S. welfare system—which today includes roughly 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide food, housing, cash, medical care, and social services—has operated under this mentality since the War on Poverty began in the 1960s. For decades now, welfare has failed to promote individual independence through addressing the causes of poverty, instead growing ever larger to merely band-aid the symptoms.
Americans are a generous people and want to help their neighbors—but they also know that work is the best way out of poverty. And helping individuals out of poverty should be the goal.
Said Senator Jeff Sessions (R–AL) in February of this year, “No longer can we measure compassion by how much we spend on poverty, but [instead we should measure it by] how many people we help to lift out of poverty.”