A Missouri Republican has introduced a new law that would prohibit the purchase of "cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood or steak" with food stamps. That's exactly the opposite of how we should treat lower income people in this country.
"I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards," Rick Brattin, the lawmaker proposing the bill, told The Washington Post. "When I can't afford it on my pay, I don't want people on the taxpayers' dime to afford those kinds of foods either."
Filet mignon and crab legs? Those are pretty pricy groceries for a single person who, on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), can only qualify for up to $194 of assistance a month. Filet mignon on sale costs about $16 to $20 a pound. Crab legs — even the cheap snow crab legs — are about $10 a pound. It's hard to believe that someone living on $7 a day could afford a single $30 meal.
But what if they did? Lean meats and seafood are important sources of healthy protein. And if filet mignon is too fancy, what about sirloin? Are shrimp acceptable? How about salmon? Lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive and exactly what we should encourage low-income families to eat.
And even if someone wanted to blow a week's budget on one nice dinner, so what? We have the right to judge the way someone else feeds their family? People would be just as incensed if it was a dinner of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Do we really resent the small dignity of the occasional surf and turf so deeply that we want a law prohibiting it?
The old Republican stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient living the good life is hardly anything new. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan talked about the fictitious "welfare queen" who gamed the system and was wearing furs and driving a Cadillac on government assistance. And every election cycle the same sentiment gets reenergized to get disgruntled taxpayers out to vote.
Poor people aren't America's problem.
The federal government spent $76 billion on SNAP in 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Now compare that with the $92 billion in corporate welfare doled out by the feds in 2012 alone. In fact, those numbers don't count employers like McDonald's and Walmart, which don't pay a living wage and rely on government welfare programs to provide their full-time employees with health care and other assistance.
Fast-food workers receive about $7 billion in public assistance each year, and Walmart pays its employees so little that, according to Forbes, each employee receives about $1,000 a year in public assistance. This is money we're spending to subsidize private companies with employees working full time.
This is the kind of injustice that should send us all screaming to the polls.
So let's not worry so much about whether a poor working mother treats herself to a nice steak every once in a while. If we can afford to pad the wallets of Walmart with billions, then we can afford to help one of its employees buy the steaks it sells. Being poor isn't a moral failing. But punishing people for being poor sure as hell is.
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