This article on increasing rates of reliance on food stamps illustrates pretty clearly the right-wing mentality when it comes to social programs — any sort of government aid is a hand-out to the lazy until I need it. Then it’s still a hand-out to the lazy, just not for me.
While Mr. Dawson, the electrician, has kept his job, the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.
Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. While some people “choose not to get married, just so they can apply for benefits,” he is a married, churchgoing man who works and owns his home. While “some people put piles of steaks in their carts,” he will not use the government’s money for luxuries like coffee or soda. “To me, that’s just morally wrong,” he said.
He has noticed crowds of midnight shoppers once a month when benefits get renewed. While policy analysts, spotting similar crowds nationwide, have called them a sign of increased hunger, he sees idleness. “Generally, if you’re up at that hour and not working, what are you into?” he said.
I don’t know, sir — but since you’re there too, why don’t you tell us?
Almost as precious is the suggestion that food stamps should come with work requirements, akin to cash welfare benefits:
“Some people like to camouflage this by calling it a nutrition program, but it’s really not different from cash welfare,” said Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. “Food stamps is quasi money.”
Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. “The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty,” he said.
No word from Mr. Rector, though, on where those jobs are coming from.
Food stamps are increasingly utilized in large part because more Americans are unemployed or underemployed. Work requirements aren’t particularly helpful if you live in rural Appalachia or suburban Detroit or the South Bronx and there just aren’t jobs to be had.
The article is also interesting because of its unspoken undercurrent of “this is now notable because white people do it.” Food stamps are now for “regular folks,” instead of those other people who usually rely on public assistance. And it contains some staggering statistics — like the fact that half of all Americans, and 90 percent of all African Americans, will rely on food stamps before they’re 20. It’s certainly a good thing that the government is able to help that many people, but what else is going on where so many Americans can’t afford food to begin with? And given those numbers, why are food stamps still treated with such disdain?
Reading this article reminded me of reading and talking about abortion rights. The people who exercise those rights are shamed into silence, the ones who don’t take a sanctimonious faux moral high ground, and a whole other subset of people take the “alright for me but not for thee” tack. Anyone who has ever worked or volunteered at an abortion clinic can tell you that there are scores of women who terminate pregnancies, but who are quick to asset that they aren’t like those other women who use abortion as birth control / weren’t responsible / are immoral / are selfish. One in three American women will terminate a pregnancy in her lifetime; I guarantee that many of those women vote for Republican politicians, voice opposition to abortion and consider themselves “pro-life.” It’s the exceptionalism tactic — I need this because, well, it’s me, but screw all those other people who aren’t as moral / hardworking / deserving.
It’s an understandable position, though, when the political right has painted things like abortion and social welfare as moral wrongs. No one wants to be in the camp that’s branded as lazy or selfish or downright evil. Democrats haven’t been much better — we adopted the right-wing talking points and passed “welfare reform,” and we still talk about abortion as “morally complex;” we still feel the need to defer to someone else’s morals instead of asserting that our morals matter, too. So we end up with a nation that simultaneously depends on and demonizes welfare programs and even basic reproductive care. And when we wonder why passing a health care bill is so difficult.
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