Not only should people know how their tax dollars are being spent, but food stamps shouldn’t pay for junk food at all, the National Center for Public Policy Research said Friday. [snip]
...said David Almasi, the National Center’s executive director. “When it comes to public assistance, I want people buying what they need with my money and not what they desire.”
My conclusion was that under the Lifelong Endowment, this wouldn’t be an issue because:
... everyone can spend their Lifelong Endowment money however they want. If they want to get all their calories from Coke and chocolate bars, that’s their business. That takes care of Almasi’s problem.
The more I thought about it, though, the more uncomfortable I got. Why shouldn’t people be able to spend their food money however they want right now?
I did a little more poking around and discovered that it’s not just the National Center for Public Policy Research that is concerned about how food stamp recipients are spending their food dollars:
Seven journalist and government watchdog organizations have called on the Agriculture Department to release information on how much money retailers that accept food stamps make from the program and what products food stamp dollars are purchasing. [snip]
The organization heads who signed the letter were from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Health Care Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, the Association of Food Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The Association of Health Care Journalists reports that:
This information could show which businesses benefit from the program and also inform public policy debates about obesity and its causes... [snip]
According to “Food Stamps: Follow the Money” a report by the advocacy group EatDrinkPolitics, the data Morisy obtained showed that in one year, “nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts together received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars – over four times the SNAP money spent at farmers markets nationwide.”
And the letter sent by the seven organizations states that:
Additionally, the USDA does not disclose which products are purchased with SNAP dollars – or how much is spent on each product, in aggregate – information that is extremely relevant to the public-policy debate about causes and health consequences of obesity, particularly in children. As medical professionals and policy makers call for limits on the use of food stamps to buy “junk food” and soft drinks, data about the type and healthfulness of food purchases is necessary to inform the discussion.
This arrogance on the part of the seven organizations that wrote the letter as well as on the part of the National Center for Public Policy Research is breathtaking. What business is it of theirs - of mine, of anyone’s - where people spend their food money and what food they spend it on? Receiving public assistance does not render someone an idiot, a child, or a pawn of the evil Walmart. Those getting food stamps remain perfectly capable of deciding where and how to spend their food dollars.
And who decides what is and isn’t the right food? I suspect the seven organizations would classify “the right food” as that bought at farmers markets (which will make for interesting eating in Massachusetts in the winter) and the kinds of fresh, organic, sustainably farmed foods that eat up money twice as fast as Walmart’s frozen vegetables (which they probably consider all to the good since poor people eat too much anyhow). The National Center for Public Policy Research, on the other hand, might tend toward some modified version of the draconian “50-pound bags of rice and beans, blocks of cheese and all the powdered milk you can haul away” approach, perhaps supplemented with the very Walmart frozen vegetables so disdained by the seven organizations. The first group is doing this for the food stamp recipients’ own good health; the second for their own good moral fiber. Yet somehow they both end up claiming the right - nay, the obligation - to tell other people what to do and how to live.
I believe that even people on food stamps are smart enough to make their own decisions about what they eat. If they choose badly then they, just like everyone else, will have to live with the consequences of their decisions. Being poor is tough enough; let’s not make it tougher by treating the poor like naughty children who must be forced to eat their vegetables and sent to bed without dessert.