The best produce in Pierre, South Dakota is probably found at a place called Korner Grocery. They have a well stocked deli with lots of local livestock cuts, as well as a surprisingly diverse selection of fish, many species of which they would have had to ship up to 2000 miles to get to this little store, off the beaten (read: only) path in town.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am on EBT for the duration of my term as an Americorps VISTA. This makes me a special case so I’m hesitant to speak for those living in poverty, but a recent conversation I had got me thinking.
While at dinner with some co-workers, I had asked one of the guys if they took food stamps there, mostly for conversation’s sake. He said probably but that “most people on food stamps just go to Wal-Mart for the cheap food.”
“Well, I mean, I’m on food stamps and I’d love to get some nice fish.” I said.
“What, you’re going to spend food stamps on LOBSTER?” he replied. Then the kicker: “You are what’s wrong with this country!”
I believe that this was meant in jest, and I don’t really care if he thinks that I’m what’s wrong with this country. He is free to think and speak his mind, and I am free to disagree. However, this stuck with me and over the next few hours I began polling myself, my family and my friends with the question:
Should somebody be allowed to spend their food stamps on caviar?
After some good discussion, some research and some more thought, I came to be of the opinion that yes, they should.
Consider the following:
1. The regulations that are currently in place are completely reasonable.
2. The regulations that are currently in place are more strict than most other country’s entitlement programs.
3. Everybody on the EBT Food program is almost guaranteed to spend their entire allowance every month.
4. Misspending ones allocation only hurts the person doing this misspending.
5. Therefore, any offense taken to somebody living outside of their means while on an entitlement program is doing so on a purely emotional basis.
Consider the following statistic: the each American annual tax return contributes roughly $275 to entitlement programs, including welfare, TANF, WIC, and SNAP. This does not include unemployment, social security or any government or military pensions. This also does not make the distinction between single and joint filings. However,comparing that same same statistic for our defense budget provides some perspective: roughly $2048 of each tax return goes to our military spending. Interestingly enough, this figure also does not include military pensions.
Now, consider how different of a country this would be if those numbers were $375 and $1948, and if the extra $100 allocation was used creating jobs in financial and entrepreneurial coaching for those in poverty.