Don’t Forget the Other Entitlement Monsters

obama1The continuing attention devoted to the blunders, incompetence, and lies surrounding the Obamacare rollout is much deserved. But we shouldn’t forget that the President’s health-care monstrosity is merely the latest and biggest of scores of government entitlement programs suffering from the same flawed progressive assumption––that government “experts” armed with coercive power alone can solve problems better left to the states, civil society, and the free market. In reality, such programs relentlessly metastasize, increasing as well fraud, waste, abuse, and costs.

One such program is SNAP, the kinder and gentler name for what we used to call food stamps. Apparently the old coupons were too hurtful, so they have been replaced by the Electronic Benefits Transfer card that looks like a debit or credit card. Over the last decade, SNAP recipients have increased from 21 million to 47 million, 1 in 7 Americans. But benefits paid out have nearly quadrupled from $21 billion to $75 billion. This total, by the way, doesn’t count the $7.2 billion spent on the Women Infants and Children program that also provides taxpayer-funded food. And don’t forget the other costs of the program, which tack on another nearly $4 billion. Part of this expansion reflects Obama’s relaxation of work and income requirements, and the increase of benefits by 13.6% as part of the 2009 stimulus bill (that increase expired on November 1). Worse yet, some speculate that Obamacare, by expanding the number of people eligible for Medicaid, might further increase the number of SNAP recipients by 3%-5%.

Unsurprisingly, fraud and abuse are rampant in the SNAP program. Since 2008, the number of able-bodied adults without children but receiving benefits has increased by 3.5 million. Many stores accepting SNAP cards are involved in selling ineligible items and trafficking. According to a USDA report, “In FY 2012, over 100 analysts and investigators reviewed over 15,000 stores and conducted nearly 4,500 undercover investigations. Close to 1,400 stores were permanently disqualified for trafficking and nearly 700 stores were sanctioned for other violations such as the sale of ineligible items . . . OIG [USDA’s Office of the Inspector General] SNAP investigations resulted in 342 convictions, including a number of multi-year prison terms for the most serious offenses, and approximately $57.7 million in monetary results.” And those are just the stores getting caught. SNAP EBT cards are regularly bought and sold, even listed on Craig’s List. According to a report by a Sacramento CBS affiliate, the fraud costs $750 million a year.

In response, in September House Republicans approved cutting $39 billion in funding, about 5% per year over the next decade, much lower than the rate of increase over the last decade. Under the Republican plan, the next decade’s cost for the program would be $700 billion rather than $770 billion. The bill also eliminates eligibility loopholes, ensures work requirements, and weeds out ineligible recipients such as college students and lottery winners. Not exactly the “slashing” of benefits the media have been decrying.

The reaction from the progressive entitlement lobby, otherwise known as Democrats, has rounded up the usual suspects of callous Republicans indifferent to starving children. This bloated program gets by on such manipulation of Dickensian emotional rhetoric about poverty and hunger in America. A recent piece by the in-house liberal for The Wall Street Journal keeps harping on “poverty” and the “poor,” and claims that the real issue “is about the extent of our collective obligation to the least fortunate Americans.” But the way the government defines “poverty,” by income alone, ignores consumption levels and income from the off-the-books economy such as cash work or illegal activities.

When one looks at material goods, however, a different picture of poverty emerges. According to an American Heritage report based on an analysis of Census Bureau data, 43% of statistically poor households own their own homes, and on average these houses have 3 bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths. One also has to wonder what notion of the “poor” would include those who have a microwave (81% of the statistical poor), air-conditioning (78%), more than one television (65%), at least one DVD player (65%), and cable or satellite television (64%), among other amenities. How about food? Leaving aside the point that those who possess non-essentials like DVD players and cable television probably can afford adequate food, the Heritage report points out that “most poor children are super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.”

As the Heritage report summarizes, “In 2005, the typical poor household, as defined by the government, had air conditioning and a car. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. In the kitchen, it had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker. The family was able to obtain medical care when needed. Their home was not overcrowded and was in good repair. By its own report, the family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.” The recession since then has not significantly altered this reality. The fact is, compared to the vast majority of human beings who have inhabited the planet, or who today live in the Third World, the statistical poor in America are part of the global rich.

The liberal melodrama of millions of under-nourished, hungry Americans cannot be squared with this data, or with the fact of rampant obesity and bad eating habits among the statistical poor. Though no doubt some Americans fit the liberal picture of the “deserving poor” who need help to keep from going hungry, the majority of those getting food stamps make the personal choice to spend their money on other goods rather than on food.

I have lived and shopped for food in socio-economically mixed neighborhoods for nearly 40 years, and have repeatedly seen people buying groceries with food stamps. During that time, I have frequently seen people with the SNAP two-piles: the goods food stamps pay for, and the other products like liquor, beer, and cigarettes. In the food pile, I cannot remember ever seeing bulk rice, beans, meat, or the other groceries one would expect the poor to buy. More typically, pricey products like processed foods, chips, snacks, sodas, cereal, and other nutritionally toxic items make up most of the pile. I have stood in line behind people in $100 sneakers and expensive NFL jackets, and more than once followed such shoppers to the parking lot and seen them get into cars better than the one I was driving.  Even an illiterate village explainer knew that if you can afford cigarettes, candy, and snazzy sneakers, you shouldn’t be getting taxpayer-funded food stamps.

Of course, progressives will dismiss this argument as heartless indifference to the “less fortunate,” and my own experience as “anecdotal” evidence. But as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is data. But even liberals know their arguments about the poor in America are weak. That’s why they rely on rhetorical pathos and invented the notion of  “relative poverty,” the idea that one is considered poor by comparison to the better off, rather than by a measurement of life-style and material wellbeing.

Like Obamacare, the SNAP program takes a small problem that in the past was addressed by churches, families, mutual aid societies, and fraternal organizations, inflates it into a crisis by hyperbolic rhetoric, and then claims only a massive federal entitlement and regulatory regime can solve the problem. That has been the progressive playbook for nearly a century, and the result has been a bloated federal bureaucracy, ruinous debt, and taxes appropriated from the producers of economic growth. That’s how we got the entitlement monsters that were on track to bankrupt the country even before Obamacare.

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  • Jason

    It’s time people started taking responsibility for their lives. There’s only so much the state can do for you before you need to take personal responsibility. People on foodstamps more often than not, as in the article, have more than enough to get by. Instead, they choose to squander their money on non essentials and unhealthy food. There should be a focus in schools, perhaps an hour a week, on how to manage money, because most people dont know how, and end up wasting it on stuff like this.

    Eligible foods also need to be severely slashed. I know it’s possible for debit cards to only work on certain items, like the essentials. It’s easily done, when I worked at a supermarket we even sold cards that only worked on essential foods. That would hamper the cheaters.

    • davarino

      I listen to a local talk radio show, and a woman called in that was on every public assistance you can think of. She admitted that she and her husband were able bodied and could work but chose not to. She said it was stupid to work if you dont have to, and that those of us that do work have made our choice. She said that those of us that do work think we are better than her, and thats the only reason we work. She was not ashamed at all and made the arguement that if someone were to give you $1Million dollars, you wouldnt turn it down. I guess she has a point, in that we are offering it without any requirements, or restrictions. How stupid are we? I guess I should quit my job and go on food stamps, housing assistance, never ending unemployment, wellfare, this subsidy, that subsidy….etc.

      They passed an affordable housing act here in Austin Texas. It puts the burden of a huge bond on the tax payer to make housing more affordable, because that evil free market has made houses expensive. Whats next, minimum wage? Ya that will solve the problem

      • BagLady

        Yeah, they called it an housing bubble. Where did they all go to, those ‘rich’ but lazy poor who lost their homes to the banks? Clearly I have misunderstood the whole picture. How are they all doing over in Detroit? Up until the mid-20th century, houses were built as family homes and lived in for generations. It wasn’t until the 60s and 70s that they became a commodity with greedy realtors pushing prices ever upwards and further out of the reach of first-time buyers.

  • Ed FDNYRetiree

    Handing out money and free stuff to people who are lazier than a sloth isn’t an “entitlement”; it is “an investment to vote.”

    • Notalibfool

      Correct. Also, those who choose to work for a living are being oppressed by the lazy. When I worked as a pizza deliverer I was frequently sent to gov’t subsidized housing where the inhabitants had far more material wealth than I could ever afford. All of it paid for by someone else.

      • Notalibfool

        I should add that most of these people treated my coworkers and me as if we were merely their servants. Bossy, demanding, and rude.

  • kevinstroup

    Entitlements are all about vote buying. The caring liberals do not give a flying f%^k about the poor. Power and being in charge are what they really care about. Until the conservatives start calling them out on this and fighting back they will continue to lose elections.

  • Shawna Mathieu

    Wow. It’s nice how everyone automatically assumes that food stamps + poor = “they’re” eating badly and wasting their money. it’s almost right up there where, it seems, if you have ubiquitous items almost everyone in society has, well, that should be proof positive that food stamp recipients really do have the money – they don’t really need a microwave, they’re just scamming the taxpayers. Oh, and if you have any actual money, you don’t need the program, and you’re a horrible human being if you dare to pay cash for the occasional case of cheap beer.
    I am not lazy. I am not a pig in the trough feeding off the good taxpayers. I know I’d heard a lot of that several years ago, when I had to go on SSDI (but I’m sure that’s an entitlement program I don’t deserve to be on). I waited a long time before I broke down and applied for assistance – it was humiliating. Are there scammers? Oh, yeah. Nice that people point at scammers and assume every single person on these programs is there to screw over the taxpayers.

    • JoJoJams

      Methinks the lady doth protest too much…….

      • BagLady

        That should read: The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    • laura r

      you are correct. seniors in the US are one of the poorest groups of people, especially widows. there are poor disabled people as well. its the blacks & hispanics w/5 children that are the problem.

    • Notalibfool

      Well, quite honestly the money wasted on that cheap beer COULD be put to better use.

      You need to get out more. Drive though your local low-income housing and see how many SUVS are in the parking lot. I have; it sucks knowing that even though I am a college graduate and have been employed steadily for years there are allegedly poor people who drive cars far nicer than what I can afford.

      • BagLady

        I don’t live in the States so I don’t know what those in receipt of welfare get but I find it hard to believe it runs to buying SUVs. Some actual figures would be useful.

        • Notalibfool

          Regardless of evidence you would stick to your assumptions. And yes, there are plenty of SUVs at the “poor” people’s apartments.

          • BagLady

            Mine was a polite request for simple figures. Yours was a rude and unhelpful response with obvious assumptions about my personality; something you are (and never will be in a position to know). You are probably aware of the expression. “All flash and no cash.” It is not always possible to ascertain a man’s wealth by the size of his watch, and I’m more interest in the inside of the poor family’s home than what is parked outside the gate.

    • Cathy1000

      Shawna, There are people that truly need help in this country. And, no one, not even on this site would condemn one of them or feel they should be cut off. However, if you were to question every person who commented here, I guarantee you they could each name quite a number of people that collect taxpayer funded payments that should not! That is the problem…. while there are those that need it and should get it, there are far more that get it and don’t need it…. The latter need to be culled from the programs!!

    • American1969

      No one is talking about people like yourself that actually NEED the help, we’re talking about what I all “Entitlement Kings/Queens”, who game and manipulate the system and get benefits that, quite frankly, they shouldn’t be getting. That’s how they make their living.

  • Cathy1000

    Whatever happened to the character of the American society? Back in the Great Depression, there were many that were really, really poor but would not take any handouts so long as they could work with their two hands. They had a sense of pride in taking care of themselves and their families…
    It disgusts me to think that there are lazy sloths in this country that feel someone else is responsible to take care of them…. Get up off your lazy butt and go and get a JOB!!!

    • BagLady

      The ‘pride’ continued long after the Great Depression. At least it did in Britain. However, this ‘pride’ was heavily promoted by the tax collectors (for obvious reasons) and it wasn’t until the advantages of the credit system became apparent to the government that attitudes changed. Prior to that ‘pride’ had forbidden borrowing for anything other than an home. Suddenly ‘the never-never’ was being promoted as an acceptable tool to get today what you can’t afford until tomorrow and the stigma was gone. Poof. In Britain the common debt has now reached 93% of GDP. Wonderful management.

  • onecornpone

    Over the last decade, SNAP recipients have increased from 21 million to 47 million.

    Forget the decade, the current regime alone has expanded the programs exponentially.

    The demographic details of the Heritage study are krypton to the Dems, and need to go V I R A L…

    Your personal, anecdotal “evidence” from the back of the grocery payout line have been witnessed by too many of us, to be dismissed offhand.

  • American1969

    Here’s an idea: How about if we go back to using Food Stamps, and also restructure what people on assistance are allowed to buy and what they aren’t?
    First off, NO JUNK FOOD, FAST FOOD, SODAS, CANDY, CHIPS, ETC. of any kind! Those are extras, not necessities.
    Second, allow them to purchase things like soap, shampoo, laundry soap, tp, etc. (I’m sure they already make allowance, but let them buy basic essentials).
    Third, if you are on PUBLIC ASSITANCE not SSDI (there is a difference), you should be able to have a regular land line phone, no long distance calls. Absolutely NO cell phones. That is a luxury item, pay for it yourself. I know people who work (I’m one) who can’t afford a cell phone right now, so why should someone on welfare have one at mine and everyone else’s expense?
    IF YOU ARE ON PUBLIC ASSISTANCE, it is not their job to pay for cable/satellite service or internet. You’re supposed to be poor on welfare—–poor people shouldn’t have the money to pay for those things. Buy an antenna.
    The EBT cards have made it easier for people to game the system and rip the taxpayer’s off. It is not supposed to be a lifestyle—-it’s supposed to be a temporary help. This just encourages people to be lazy and dependent. It also encourages massive fraud, as people are using their EBT cards at casinos, strip bars, bars, etc. Places that they’re not supposed to be.
    I see plenty of working people who have to cut back on lots of things to make ends meet, while people on welfare run around buying things with other people’s money that people that work can’t afford. And they act like it’s owed to them.
    Or perhaps we should go back to the original method of welfare: A sack of flour and a sack of potatoes, and that’s it.
    People should always remember one thing: There is no free ride in life. One way or another, you pay—–whether it’s with your money, your freedom, your self-esteem, self-respect, dignity….but you pay one way or another. That’s a fact.

  • knowshistory

    there is really no sense in even discussing the welfare dependency problem. the time to correct that problem, was several years ago, when the welfare lobby did not outnumber the workers. now that welfarists have achieved critical mass(a majority) there is no solution but to watch the government go bankrupt, have the civil war that is the only possible outcome, and see who wins. it will really interesting if the welfarists win……………will they formalize the defacto slavery we are now experiencing with the whips and chains of chattel slavery? that would be the most likely outcome. if the workers win, will they eradicate the freeloader class? time will tell.

    • BagLady

      I would be looking at the 51% of the budget that goes to the Pentagon before I screwed the last cent out of the unemployed.

  • Eunomia2013

    Tonight’s Boardwalk Empire had a gangster in collusion with the mayor to secure voters and who supplies heroin to miserable junkies. Our gangster president creates welfare junkies to secure voters.

    Make believe & real life walking hand in hand.

    • BagLady

      OK, but what do you offer as an alternative? You exported all the jobs to the East. Look at Detroit. Bring the work back and THEN talk about welfare cuts. Strange that during boom years no-one minds the welfare system. Once the bubble bursts and more and more of the nouveau middle classes hit the skids, we are bombarded with right-wing media bashing of “The welfare junkies”. It is true. A small proportion are on the fiddle and scrounge. However, a far larger proportion of MPs are guilty of false accounting and fraud. From them a public apology is deemed a fitting punishment. It’s prison for the miserable petty thief.

      • Eunomia2013

        Detroit was once the automotive capital of the world! 60 years of control by liberal Democrat politicians and union goons turned it into a bankrupt, crime ridden slum full of welfare junkies.

        ANYTHING would have been a better alternative!

  • Dylan Felts

    The 2 people I know who have magic cards, sell them for money for drugs. Every month of every year they lie in wait for them, (like clock work they come) then it’s off to see their dealer. Bliss to keep their ignorance in tip top shape.

    • BagLady

      So you only know 2 recipients of welfare. Not really enough to draw a conclusion. I don’t actually know any but I expect there are many on the verge of suicide. In the ’20s it was the bankers throwing themselves off the rooftops, now it’s the working classes. I think we should keep the drug problem separate from the economy. There should be room in a prosperous country for a small percentage of non-productive residents. Ditto refugees.

      To those of the Far Right, don’t forget that it was the Socialists that came to the rescue of the Capitalists, bailing them out of the mess they had made of everything.

      So long as you continue to give 51% of your income to the Pentagon, there is no hope of a recovery.

  • jespasinthru

    Just because somebody is considered “poor” by American standards doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have creature comforts like microwaves, washers & dryers, and even flat-screen TVs. All of those things can be purchased cheaply at thrift stores and pawn shops. And the reason they invented food stamps in the first place is because so many young men were entering the military with health problems cause by malnutrition in a country with such an abundance of food. The massive fraud in the current program started at the top as Uncle Sam became “a fool and his money”.

  • JustAnotherTroll

    What good would envy be, if it did not cut both ways for the working man/woman. You envy the rich because they do not have to work like you do. You envy the poor because they too do not have to work. In many cases, the poor are simply playing the game better than you. They did not write the laws, make the rules of how to apply and be eligible for SNAP and other benefits. They learn them and know them and then following the rules maximize their advantage. If such a thing is done in the “free market” then you are an entrepreneur, take advantage of programs being offered and you are a deadbeat. I know first hand of a group of farmers at the township meeting complaining about having to pay $250 out of the general assistance fund to buy cancer meds, and then after the meeting complaining that they the government was only going to pay them $60,000 in counter-cyclical payments (farmer welfare). Perhaps it would be more palatable if SNAP recipients had to fill out more paperwork like academics do with their grants and fellowships (Academic welfare).

  • Mark N Starla Traina


    Obama Administration: ‘Free’ Cell Phones for Black

    You’ve heard of the
    “Obama phone” — the so-called “free” cell phones given
    away to people at the expense of taxpayers. Now, the Obama Administration
    through Attorney General Eric Holder has a new plan: “free” cell
    phones and bus money. That’s right. Become a convict and get free counseling,
    phones, training… you name it! This is our government at work!

    On Monday, the Department of Justice announced a new program
    which AG Eric Holder says “will require all 200-plus halfway houses in the
    federal system to offer standardized treatment to prisoners with mental health
    and substance abuse issues.” Question… if a prisoner is locked up for
    years, away from drugs and alcohol, why would they need treatment for substance
    abuse once they got out?

    In addition to those
    programs, the halfway houses will “have to provide greater assistance to
    inmates who are pursuing job opportunities, such as permitting cell phones to
    be used by inmates and providing funds for transportation.” This looks
    like the case of Obama phone!