Marketing Dependency

The Food Stamp President ramps up efforts to break down self-sufficiency ethics among the poor.

As exposed by the Daily Caller, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is apparently unsatisfied with the fact that a record-setting one-in-seven Americans, totaling 46 million people, are currently receiving food stamps. In an effort to get that number even higher, the Department has created a series of radio "novelas" aimed Spanish speakers, promoting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). "Our common goal is to increase participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program )SNAP) (sic)," reads the opening paragraph at the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service website. "Our purpose is to ensure that those going through difficult times can feed their families healthy, nutritious food. By working as a team, we can accomplish these goals."

The goals include a series of ten novelas, with titles such as "At the Park," "Celebration," "Success," and "Kid's Talk."  They are available as both MP3 files and written radio scripts. Each one of the written scripts begins the name of the episode, its purpose, its setting and a "myth buster." For example, episode one, "At the Park" (At El Parque"), states that its purpose is "program introduction." Its setting is "at a neighborhood park." Then come the myth busters. "1) MYTH: SNAP IS NOT WELFARE. FACT: SNAP IS A NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM. 2) MYTH: ONLY UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE CAN GET SNAP FACT: MOST PEOPLE WHO WORK LOW WAGE JOBS CAN GET SNAP BENEFITS. (italic, caps, and the apparent mistake in myth one, which should read SNAP is welfare, all in the original).

One of the myth/truth exchanges is aimed at de-stigmatizing the program. The myth expresses the concern "that other people will know I use SNAP." The fact section reassures the potential user that "the SNAP EBT card makes it discreet." Another myth-busting fact assures potential users that they can "own a car and still get assistance."

All of the scripted scenarios consists of characters convincing skeptics to join the program or explaining how much healthier it is to be on food stamps. The majority of the stories end as "cliff hangers," with an announcer encouraging the listeners to tune into the next program to see if the character skeptical of using the program is convinced to apply for benefits, or at least begins to understand how important the program is for maintaining one's health.

A USDA guide titled "Engaging Special Populations" is a blueprint detailing the most effective ways to reach Americans and get them in the program. It begins with a section that emphasizes the "importance of effective SNAP outreach across cultures."  And while the section provides "suggestions" and "practical tips" for doing so, it warns that these are not "intended to provide specific strategies and tactics for reaching individuals of distinct races, ethnicities, cultures, or other demographic groups."

That last bit is disingenuous at best. As the the Daily Caller reveals, there is no English-language equivalent program being produced by the USDA, and telenovelas are a popular form of entertainment in Spanish-speaking countries. The radio novelas overcome the "lack of knowledge" the USDA contends is one of main hurdles hampering greater participation in the SNAP program.

Furthermore, as far as the USDA is concerned, outreach to American citizens is insufficient. Another guide, "Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Guidance on Non-Citizen Eligibility" outlines the various non-citizen categories under which one is still eligible for the program. Some of these "qualified aliens" include green card holders, people granted asylum, parolees, Iraqi and Afghan special immigrants, non-citizens who may be victims of human trafficking or domestic violence, and others. The guide bemoans the lack of participation by such non-citizens. “In 2008, the participation rate for non-citizens was 51% and the rate for citizen children living with non-citizen adults was 55% as compared to the national participation rate of 67% among all eligible individuals,” it reads.

Yet the USDA is quick to point out that illegal aliens are not eligible for the program. “Non-citizens who are unlawfully present, are not, nor have they ever been, eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits,” Amanda D. Browne, a USDA spokeswoman explained in an email to The Daily Caller. Yet Robert Rector, the Heritage Foundation’s senior research fellow on welfare and family issues notes that legal children of illegals are eligible for benefits. Thus, the potential for illegal aliens to game the system, much like they already do in many other arenas, remains a troubling reality.

The USDA now devotes a full two-thirds of its budget to welfare programs, with food stamps consuming the largest portion. It has become the second-largest welfare program in the nation, bested only by Medicaid. And while one may think the relatively recent economic downturn is largely responsible, this program began expanding in earnest during the Bush administration, when the current idea of recruiting people into a program they may not have heard of, or otherwise wanted, began.

The expansion has been chilling. About 17 million people received food stamps back in 2000. By 2008, the number reached 30 million. Four years later, we're up 46 million. 1 in 50 Americans got food stamps when the program began in the 1970s. 1-in-7 Americans get them now.

One of the main reasons for the expansion--through good times and bad--has been something called "categorical eligibility." Categorical eligibility is the idea that if someone is eligible for another welfare program, they are presumptively eligible for food stamps. This effectively wiped out the "asset test" barrier by which one wasn't eligible for food stamps if one had $30,000 in a bank account, though there are still some income limitations. And the Obama administration's stimulus package suspended the work requirement that had discouraged young, able-bodied, non-parents from signing up for the program. Unsurprisingly, exactly the opposite is occurring as a result. Making matters worse, the federal government is paying states $50 million in bonuses for getting people on the program.

Yet perhaps the biggest concern involving this program is the fact that it is part of the farm bill. Farm bills are passed once every five years, meaning their spending is locked in for half a decade. The 2008 Farm Bill was estimated to spend $604.1 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The 2012 Farm Bill is estimated to spend $969.2 billion over the next 10 years. The whopping 60 percent increase is driven mostly by the food stamp portion of the bill that runs to $770 billion, comprising 79 percent of the total expenditure.

Yet Democrats are resisting even modest cuts to the program. When they lost a vote during a House Agriculture Committee meeting on Wednesday aimed at stopping a mere $16.5 billion cuts to food stamps in the 2012 farm bill, they accused Republicans (and apparently the five Democrats who supported the cuts as well) of balancing the federal budget on the backs of the poor. "They literally take food away from hungry people," said Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) who offered the measure.

McGovern and his fellow travelers in the Democrats party may pretend not to notice, but the entire nation is "literally" heading for bankruptcy. It is a date with fiscal insolvency driven primarily by an exponential expansion of entitlement programs. And while it is one thing to help those in genuine need, it is quite another to not only mangle the definition of "need" beyond all reasonable recognition, but to actively recruit people to neediness.

America is dangerously close to the point (if we're not there already) where half the nation is not only supporting the other half, but any disinclination of the supporters to do so is being excoriated. That excoriation emanates overwhelmingly from Democrats, who have a vested interest in making as many American as possible wards of the state and have aggressively worked to break down self-sufficiency ethic. It is their principal pathway to amplifying their political power, even if individual ambition, dignity and self-reliance--or the nation itself--is destroyed in the process.

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