Monday, February 15, 2010

New Food Stamp Users, Same Old Argument

According to a recent article by the New York Times, the stigma of receiving food stamps has been lessened dramatically due to the continuing economic crisis. The authors of the article trace the slow rise in food stamp popularity from early 1990s to today. But as the article explains, however popular food stamps have become, there are always critics.

Criticism and dialogue is an important part of social policy discussions, but the arguments against food stamps and other safety net programs are tired, overused, and usually incredibly derogatory. Those who advocate for higher restrictions and federal cuts parrot the same argument over and over, with increasingly ridiculous metaphors: food stamps make you dependent, and that’s really bad. The most recent example of this is Andre Bauer, the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, who when asked about safety net programs replied that his grandmother “…told [him] as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”

Though later Bauer said he regretted his comments, he defended his statements by saying that he was simply trying to “spark a discussion on how South Carolina will break the culture of dependency that pervades these programs.” Yes, but while these recycled comments from Bauer and others continue, nearly 1 in 5 Americans said they have not had enough money to buy food in the last month (FRAC, January 2010). 9.3 million people lost their jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2010). Millions of men, women, and children will feel the effects of “very low food insecurity”—skipping meals because they cannot afford enough food.

Regardless of whether safety net programs like food stamps create dependency like so many claim, these programs are responsible for feeding millions of hungry Americans everyday. People who have never dreamed of needing food stamps but are now feeling the pinch of this economy are applying and receiving benefits. Low income workers who were on food stamps before the economic downturn need food stamps more than ever. It is despicable that some Americans and even our elected officials would turn away a fellow American citizen at their time of need because they might become “dependent.” Let’s work together to end American hunger, rather than rehash old arguments against it.

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