Government assistance has been a topic of debate for as long as it’s existed. Some people say that the government is essentially paying people to be lazy. Why work when you can get on welfare and receive checks for doing nothing? You can get money to pay for food and certain other items for children. You even get free health insurance out of it (in the form of Medicaid). These critics point out that there is no motivation to get a job or try to get clean from drugs or alcohol when you can coast through life on the taxpayers’ dime. This is a pretty harsh criticism, and while there may be elements of truth to it, it’s certainly not true of everyone.
Let’s just take food stamps as an example. They’re referred to now as The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The program is run by the United States Department of Agriculture, and eligibility is determined by income, expenses, age, and immigration status, among other factors. SNAP recipients are provided with debit cards, called Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT cards, that act as a voucher for food. Benefits are deposited directly onto the card each month and can be used to purchase meat, fish, poultry, dairy, bread, cereal, vegetables, fruits, and plants and seeds that produce food. They can also be used to purchase food for babies, including formula, juice, and cereal. EBT cards cannot be used for pet food, hot food (meaning pre-prepared meals like the fried chicken you’d see at a store’s deli counter), liquor, cigarettes, vitamins or medicine.
EBT cards are accepted in most places that sell food, including grocery stores, superstores like Target and Walmart, convenience stores, club stores like Costco, and farmers markets. There are even many restaurants that will take them, including most fast food chains.
It seems pretty simple, right? How could proving low-income people with the means to feed themselves be a bad thing? As mentioned above, some people believe that if you’re poor enough to need assistance, you must be lazy or deficient in some way. This is patently untrue. In California, for example, more than 74 percent of SNAP participants are families with children, almost 9 percent have family members who are elderly or have disabilities, and more than 49 percent are in working families.
Putting aside that biased view of recipients, what are the other problems? Some people who receive SNAP do find ways around the system to get cash they can use for drugs. It’s practically a business enterprise – you go to a store that has a six pack of Pepsi on sale for a dollar off, then turn around and sell that Pepsi to someone else at the regular price, and voila, you have some cash to spend on drugs. People also sell or trade the cards themselves and then claim they were lost so they are issued another one. However, the incidences of this happened are really quite low. One USDA study found that the rate of trafficking – using SNAP benefits for illegal means – amounts to about one cent on the dollar.
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