November 21 2012

Sad Milestone: 42.2 Million Americans to Purchase Thanksgiving Meal with Food Stamps

Charlotte Hays

This Thanksgiving we will mark a sad milestone—more U.S. citizens than ever before will use food stamps to purchase their holiday meals.

U.S. News & World Report notes:  

This Thanksgiving, 42.2 million Americans will be on food stamps, according to the Economic Policy Institute. This is roughly the size of the populations of California and Connecticut combined.

One hates to sound churlish at the holiday season, but the story goes on to say:

Not surprisingly, feeding millions of Americans isn't cheap. The cost of the SNAP program last year reached $72 billion, the highest to date, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

I wouldn’t want to be feeding a family on food stamps at Thanksgiving. But I do have a bone to pick, so to speak, with something billed as “the food stamp challenge.” Here is how it is described:

The food stamp challenge is one of the best ways to learn about the nutrition hurdles that low-income Americans face every day. The Challenge usually entails eating on a budget of roughly $1 to $1.25 per meal (per person), an amount that approximates the average allocation of food stamp benefits.

Since restaurants do not accept food stamps, dollar value-meals and the like are off limits. Most supermarkets as well as many farmers’ markets accept food stamp dollars – if you’re not sure, just ask!

Many people who have taken the challenge, such as members of U.S. Congress, have done so for a period of one week. However, the longer your challenge, the more you will learn!

Lurking (or maybe in plain sight) in the food stamp challenge, which is becoming trendy with people such as Newark Mayor Corey Booker signing up, is a call for the government so spend more on food stamps. It cannot be easy to eat on $3.75 a day. But food stamps should not be a long-term proposition for anybody but the frail and impoverished elderly. Food stamps should be a stop-gap method of combating hunger--a safety net, if you will--and not a way of life.

Of course, it is heart-breaking when a family must depend on food stamps at Thanksgiving (or at any time of the year). But there is only one way to reduce poverty: upward mobility. Upward mobility depends on having a job, the way to reach the middle class and, once there, to stay. You can't go to a restaurant for $3.75 a day, but you can stay alive. I am not saying it would be fun.

Moreover, the notion that it is unfair that the government doesn’t provide more money for families on food stamps underlies the difference between private charity and entitlements. Private charity is seen as a gift; gratitude, ever how grudging, often accompanies it. On food stamps, the dependent person is more likely to regard the support as a right and to actually feel it is unjust that the dollar amount isn't larger.

Let us hope that on Thanksgiving 2013 people who are dependent on food stamps this year will be celebrating their escape from a system of dependence that over the long haul will be destructive.

Of course, given the cowardice, economic ignorance, and general lack of seriousness among our leaders on Capitol Hill, this may not happen.

 

 

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