Friday, January 27, 2012

Laurence M. Vance: Food stamp politicians

  Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is in hot water for referring to Barack Obama as “the food-stamp president.”

  The NAACP and the National Urban League have sharply criticized Gingrich for saying that “the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

  In the FOX News Republican presidential debate held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on January 16, Gingrich was asked about these things by panelist Juan Williams. Gingrich denied that he was insulting black Americans and seeking to belittle people and stated, “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.”

  Gingrich’s statement was made the focal point of his new ad that ran statewide in South Carolina making the case that he is the only candidate who can beat Obama. The exchange was also highlighted in a fundraising email headlined, “Standing Ovation,” in which Gingrich writes, “I would be the strongest candidate to face Barack Obama one-on-one on stage and challenge him for being the greatest food-stamp President in American history.”

  In the CNN Republican presidential debate held in Charleston, South Carolina, on January 19, the only mention of food stamps was by Rick Santorum. Speaking about “the working men and women of this country,” he said, “You have the Democratic Party and Barack Obama, and all he wants to do is make them more dependent, give them more food stamps, give them more Medicaid.”

  The federal food-stamp program, which is now officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a federal program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but operated by the states. About 46 million Americans currently receive food stamp benefits averaging $133 per person, per month.

  In my state of Florida, some of the maximum monthly food-stamp benefit amounts are $200 for a 1-person household, $526 for a 3-person household, and $793 for a 5-person household.

  The first food stamp program was temporary. It lasted from 1939 to 1943. A pilot program was operated from 1961 to 1964. The program was made permanent in 1964, and has been expanded, reformed, and revised every few years since then.

  Someone hearing about the food-stamp brouhaha who wasn’t aware of the wide bipartisan support for the program might be inclined to think that Republicans want to abolish it. But at no time did Gingrich or Santorum ever call for the elimination of the food-stamp program.

  When did House Speaker Gingrich and the Republican-controlled Congress for six years under President Clinton ever make an attempt to eliminate the federal food-stamp program? When did Senator Santorum and the Congress the Republicans controlled for more than four years under George W. Bush, a Republican, ever make an attempt to eliminate the program?

  The truth is that after decreasing every year during most of the Clinton years, the number of Americans on food stamps rose from 17 million in fiscal year 2001 to 33 million in fiscal year 2009. Bush should also be called the food-stamp president.

  The usual Republican proposal regarding the food-stamp program is to fix or revamp the program and never to phase it out or abolish it. Here is an all-to-typical example from a critic of the food stamp program:

     As a prerequisite to receiving food stamp benefits, the individuals should have to complete a short nutrition education course.

     I would like to go a step further to say that the government should change the way the benefits are received from a lump sum to specified recipient items. These items would be chosen and calculated by [a] panel of government paid nutritionists to give the individuals what is needed for a healthy diet.

     We already have a program that works similarly to this: the Women Infants and Children program. In this program, they are given a set amount of necessities such as milk, diapers and formula.

     I simply propose that we work food stamps the same way. Each family would get a sum from which they may purchase their choice of protein, a certain amount of whole grain starch, and allotments for fresh fruits and vegetables.

     As it currently is, these individuals can get sushi, prime rib, lobster, cake, soda and ice cream. I am not saying that the recipients should never get those items but instead put a small amount aside that is the “discretionary fund.” This would instill a reminder that although they are receiving this food free of cost, it is not free. We, the taxpayers, pay for it each week out of our paychecks.

     Because the money is coming from the government, the recipients should be held responsible for how it is spent.

  Gingrich and Santorum are food-stamp politicians. Although they may call for reforms, reductions, improvements, restrictions, more efficiency, and less fraud, they fully support the food-stamp program. Just as they, along with most of their fellow Republicans, fully support most of the New Deal and Great Society welfare programs.

  There are three reasons that there should be no food-stamp program. The first is constitutional; the second is ethical, and the third is philosophical.

  One, the federal government is delegated very limited and very specific powers by the Constitution. Not only are providing food stamps or food assistance not one of them, but the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything to do with food. It is not a matter of a liberal, a conservative, or some other view of the Constitution. There is simply no mention of food anywhere in the Constitution, period.

  Two, taking money from one group of Americans and giving it to another group of Americans is immoral. It doesn’t matter what the purpose of the taking is. Redistributing wealth from one person or group to any other person or group for any reason — including “good” reasons such as feeding the hungry — is just plain wrong. The federal food-stamp program is an income-redistribution scheme that enjoys widespread support only because of the images of starving children put forth by its proponents.

  And three, it is just simply not the purpose of government to be involved in any way with feeding people, fighting hunger, providing nutritional guidelines, regulating or subsidizing agriculture, combating obesity, distributing food, or making sure children don’t go to bed hungry.

  The federal government should have nothing to do with the food business for the same reason it should have nothing to do with health-care or the automobile industry — it is an unconstitutional, immoral, and illegitimate purpose of government.

  About the author: Laurence M. Vance is a policy advisor for the Future of Freedom Foundation and the author of The Revolution That Wasn’t. Visit his website: Send him email.

  This article was published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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