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Debunking the propaganda – new food assistance options

February 14, 2018

The MSM is at it again, this time over “food stamp” spending, and the media-concocted “war on the poor.”

It would behoove the media outlets to research the history of government nutritional assistance before whipping out their keyboard.

There are legitimate questions about how replacing some but not all of the cash with actual food items might work, but labeling it as a “war on the poor” isn’t conducive to discussing those questions rationally, so let’s forget all that and just discuss the issue.

We have tried substituting  boxes of food items for money  before.

In the past, the government dealt with agricultural over-production by purchasing surplus agricultural items and redistributing them to the poor.  That was popularly known as the commodities program, and it resulted in the poor receiving boxes containing items such as  powdered milk, cheese, beans, rice and flour, among others.

Interestingly, at the time the program was as much about supporting prices for agricultural products as it was about humanitarian assistance, which is why the USDA, not Health and Human Services controlled the program.

The new idea, of purchasing commercially packaged foods like cans of chili or loaves of bread, takes into account that expecting modern day Americans to take the raw food items and turn them into nutritious meals isn’t as feasible as it was in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

If you strip away the political noise, the real question becomes, “is this a better solution?”

Today, it’s worth questioning whether diverting part of the total available ready-to-use grocery store food items directly to the food insufficient would be sustainable over the long haul.

The government’s argument is that they can purchase in sufficient bulk to substantially lower the costs of supplemental food items, and there is some evidence that there is truth in that argument.

For instance, nonprofits in the field of nutritional assistance say they can often supply the items for one meal, using commercially packaged food items, for under $3.00 per meal by leveraging their bulk buying power.

Contrast that with the trendy subscription meal kit providers, with per person meal costs averaging around $10.00 and you can see where the government’s buying power can affect total grocery costs.

However, it doesn’t take into account that neither food stamp recipients nor the average middle class shopper purchases the bulk of their food  in the organic foods aisle. When they buy a dozen eggs it’s going to be the cheapest dozen eggs available, never mind what the living conditions of the chickens were. If a can of name brand green beans costs $1.69 and the house brand is .89, well, nobody eats the labels.

What this is meant to illustrate is whether Washington is so out of touch with how the real world operates that the solutions really don’t solve the problems.

Also at issue is whether the government has the right to force food choices on you. Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch program, which  led to massive food waste in the schools would indicate that the idea doesn’t work.

Truthfully, one can see the more liberal hand of some of the members of the President’s family in this proposed “solution” more than you can President Trump’s.

Or, maybe how well the average family uses its food assistance money isn’t the real problem.

The political claim is that this change will save an average of $13 billion a year over ten years, which is a hefty chunk of the present annual cost of $65 billion spent now.

Besides assuring us that the program will be cheaper to operate, there have also been some claims that it will reduce fraud.

Lost in all the clickbait headlines is whether there really is substantial fraud within the food assistance system, and whether eliminating any amount of cash assistance would control that problem.

Again this is a highly politicized topic. Some sources, including the USDA, swear that most of the fraud has been controlled, while conservatives say it still exists and wastes a lot of money. Yet even the USDA admits that a lot of the fraud is on the retailer side, not the direct recipients.

Who is right?  The short answer is we don’t really know, because the last full audit is more than 5 years old. The USDA says it has fallen from 4% of the approximately 65 billion dollar budget to about 1.5% or a little under one billion dollars.

Still, even at 4% we are talking about a tiny percentage of the total deficit spending.

True, a billion here and a billion there and it starts to look like real money, but only partially changing the system over, which could also include increased administration,  transportation and storage costs, may be unlikely to reduce the true costs very much, if at all.

If Congress would agree to amending the food program legislation already on the books to allow for a five-year pilot program and then providing an honest assessment of the costs,  the idea might be worth trying.

Indeed, the best short-term limiter of cost might be the improving economy.

There will always be people who are food insufficient. The disabled, the elderly poor and those temporarily out of work will always require assistance, and yes, there is a certain generational component as well.

Is this something the country wants Congress to go to war over? Probably not. But then again, this isn’t about food anyway.

The real cause of all this liberal angst, Hollywood hypocrisy and media outrage isn’t about hunger.  It’s about scoring political points.

From → op-ed

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