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Excerpt From a Nation of Moochers: Feed Me!

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Thursday's Wall Street Journal talks about "Food Stamp Nation." Here is the section of the book that deals with the explosion of a free eats...



As the programs have grown, free or subsidized meals are no longer rationally related to feeding the hungry or those unable to provide for themselves; instead they are driven by an impulse to universalize the benefits, remove any lingering stigma, while spreading dependency as a virtue, as widely as possible. In other words: Everybody should buy everybody’s lunch! And breakfast too! (And did I mention dinner also would be nice?)

 No program has grown more explosively than the program formerly known as Food Stamps.

In just two years, the number of people on food stamps rose by more than 10 million, while spending nearly doubled. On Election Day in 2008, 31 million people were on the rolls at a cost to taxpayers of $39 billion in Fiscal Year 2008. Within two years, the number of recipients rose to 42.4 million and the federal 2011 budget projects spending of $75 billion.[i]

The 2009 Stimulus Bill helped to open the floodgates by loosening restrictions on eligibility, even as it raised benefits increased spending.  The legislation, for example, dropped requirements that able-bodied recipients without children had to work at least half-time to be eligible – a particular boon to failure-to-launch hipsters, about whom more later. As significant as the cost and numbers are, the shift in public attitude has been equally dramatic, accompanied by media cheerleading for the loss of stigma once associated with food stamp usage. The New York Times chronicled the dawning age of dependency when it reported that food stamp dependence has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys.”[ii]

There were, of course, some minor, awkward glitches, including the story of a woman who “drove to the food stamp office in a Mercedes-Benz and word spread that she owned a $300,000 home loan-free. Since Ohio ignores the value of houses and cars, she qualified.”

But, the Times reported, attitudes toward the program continued to improve as “across the small towns and rolling farmland outside Cincinnati, old disdain for the program has collided with new needs.” Americans were learning to love the dole. Like other forms of dependency food stamp usage also is addictive. Despite claims that food stamps are a temporary, stop-gap, emergency measure, according to the Heritage Foundation, “the majority of food stamp recipients at any given time are or will become long-term dependents. In fact, half of food stamp aid goes to individuals who have received aid for 8.5 years or more.”[iii]

Nevertheless, the program continues to expand under new management and with a new moniker that theoretically lessens the sting of the dole. The Times found that at least one quarter of the population in 239 counties across the country was dependent on the stamps. Among children, dependency was even more widespread. The story cited a recent study by Mark R. Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, who found that half of Americans -- and a startling 90 percent of black children -- receive food stamps before they turned 20.[iv]

Still it was not enough; the push to expand dependency continued apace.

“Although the program is growing at a record rate, the federal official who oversees it would like it to grow even faster,” the Times reported, quoting Kevin Concannon, the undersecretary of Agriculture who said, “I think the response to the program has been tremendous.” (Of course this is “tremendous” only if you regard a massive increase in dependency as a cause for jubilation.)

But, he added, the federal government is “mindful that there are another 15, 16 million who could benefit.” In other words, despite a nearly 33% increase in food stamp usage, he would not be satisfied unless it rose by yet another 39% -- envisioning a country where as many as 57 million Americans rely on the taxpayers to buy their Doritos for them....

Hungry Hipsters

The success in breaking down old stigmas associated with mooching off the taxpayers was documentedby the online magazine Salon created a mini-sensation when it published a story titled, “Hipsters on food stamps,” which reported on the ease with which middle and upper middle class creative types shrugged off “old taboos” about combining freeloading with living large.[vi]

Reported Salon:

“Think of it as the effect of a grinding recession crossed with the epicurean tastes of young people as obsessed with food as previous generations were with music and sex. Faced with lingering unemployment, 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees and foodie standards are shaking off old taboos about who should get government assistance and discovering that government benefits can indeed be used for just about anything edible, including wild-caught fish, organic asparagus and triple-crème cheese.”

By eliminating work requirements for able-bodied no-kids singles, the massive 2009 stimulus bill opened the door for yuppies to indulge their culinary passions courtesy of the taxpayer. The free federal cash, reported Salon, had instant appeal for “20- and 30-something creatives and young professionals” and, as a result “the kinds of food markets that specialize in delectables like artisanal bread, heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef have seen significant upticks in food stamp payments among their typical shoppers.”

This included a 30-year old art grad student named Sarah Magida and her partner Gerry Mak, a graduate of the university of Chicago, who said that about half of her friends now are on food stamps and told Salon of her delight whens she discovered that “you can get anything” on the government stamps. Magida used food stamps to purchase “fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.”

"I'm eating better than I ever have before," she told Salon. "Even with food stamps, it's not like I'm living large, but it helps."

Magida then provided what could be the moocher mantra: "At first, I thought, 'Why should I be on food stamps?' Here I am, this educated person who went to art school, and there are a lot of people who need them more. But then I realized, I need them, too."




[i] “In U.S., 14% Rely on Food Stamps,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2010

[ii] DeParle and Gebeloff, op. cit.

[iii]  Bradley and Rector, “ Confronting the Unsustainable Growth of Welfare Entitlements,” op. cit.  

[iv] DeParle and Gebeloff, op. cit.

[v] Mathtew Boyle, “Universities encouraging students to receive welfare benefits,” The Daily Caller, December 7, 2010

[vi] Jennifer Bleyer, “Hipsters on food stamps; They're young, they're broke, and they pay for organic salmon with government subsidies. Got a problem with that?,”,  March 15, 2010 


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