Halving the federal food stamp budget is more than just a necessary step; reducing federal food assistance was supposed to happen this year anyway. Normally, the United States food assistance program provides help for three months after a worker loses his or her job. Yet, because of the recession, the government thought it important to extend the time Americans could receive food assistance, of which food stamps are an important part. So the government passed waivers for five years that would enable millions more to receive food stamps for longer periods of time. It was aware of the economic downturn and wanted to support the populace through it.
But here’s the thing: The recession is over. The waivers were set to expire in five years’ time and that brings us to today, when they’re expiring—right?
It turns out that just like when you give a mouse a cookie, giving Americans increased access to food stamps for a specific amount of time means that they are going to want more.
According to USA Today, the amount the government has been paying for food stamps has more than doubled since the recession, hitting more than $82.5 billion in 2013. The cost of food programs has more than tripled since 2000, with 2012 being the 12th year in a row that we reached a new historical high in spending on such programs. This is because 15 percent of all Americans—that’s three in every 20—are receiving food assistance. In some states, such as Mississippi, New Mexico, and Oregon, approximately one person out of five is receiving federal assistance. Plus, the bigger a program gets, the more fraud and abuse will arise—and the harder such abuse will be to curtail.
Scariest of all, even though the recession has ended, the stock market is back on track, and jobless rates are decreasing, people are still enrolling in food assistance programs. So instead of contracting, as they were supposed to, these food assistance programs are still expanding due to lax waivers that allow people to qualify who no longer really have that need in an increasingly better economic climate.
What we need to do now is cut a program that allows people to receive unnecessary and expensive help. It’s like your parents allowing you to stay at home for a year or two after graduating from college—it’s all right as long as you’re slowly getting up on your feet, but to live forever that way is stagnant to both you and your parents. And in the food stamp case, it’s detrimental to the economy when people who should be working are instead burdens on the government and their fellow citizens.
It’s easy for detractors of the proposed cut to focus on the very poor, whom they claim will be badly hurt by such a harsh cut. But cutting the food stamp budget does not mean that people who very much still need help won’t receive it, but instead to eliminate people from the system who shouldn’t be there anymore. The goal of the cuts is to get people out of the program and into the workforce.
With the cut in food stamps comes the promise on both the national and state level of growth in job-placement and training programs. As Wisconsin lets its waivers expire, for example, it will spend an extra $33 million on job programs. So cutting funding for food stamps might be the best thing that happened to the U.S. in the past week, because finally the focus is going to be on getting people back to work. As Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his essay “Self-Reliance,” wrote, “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his best.” I expect the nation will be relieved, too, with fewer people enrolled in the food stamps program and more in the workforce, finally pushed out of their parents’ homes and self-reliant.