Thursday, July 18, 2013

Food for Dummies

The classic metaphor “food for thought” is another way of saying “something to ponder; provocative.”  I wish that Congress’ latest fiasco had undergone a little consideration.  It didn’t and 45 million Americans could pay the price. 
Earlier this week Congress passed the Farm Bill.  This is a bill that traditionally has included the funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program more commonly known as Food Stamps.  It’s a bill that traditionally also pays farmers not to grow certain crops.  While the political parties have tussled over it regularly – ultimately the politicians who support the one program and not the other are willing to allow the other program to be funded in order to maintain the program they care about.  Some call it compromise, others call it political reality.  It’s how government has functioned (and grown) for decades.
Providing financial assistance to farmers has been a staple of American politics nearly since the founding.  According to the EPA 8% of farmers (family or corporate) generate 67% of all agricultural products.  With the minority generating the majority of products, it’s hard to see how a $500 billion subsidy to the industry makes fiscal sense.
The SNAP program (food Stamps) has more than doubled under the Obama administration.  According to the USDA in 2008 28 million Americans utilized the program at a cost of $34.6 billion.  In 2012 46.6 million Americans (nearly 15% of the population) utilized the program at a cost of $74.6 billion.  That’s a monumental increase in size and dollars in just 4 years.
Republicans are flummoxed by the increase and in the bill they passed this week Congress defunded the SNAP Program, yet kept the funding in place for the farmers.
On a purely philosophical level, neither program should be funded.  In a purely capitalistic economy it’s not the role of Government to incentivize farmers to grow one crop versus not growing another.  For people who aren’t able to earn enough money family, friends and charitable support structures should be the social safety net.
That philosophy if fully and resolutely applied would work.  We don’t, however, have any examples of it, so it’s purely an intellectual theoretical exercise.  Any implementation of such a policy wouldn’t be limited to these two programs - it’d be systemic throughout the entire economy.  And it would require comprehensive transition to support the change...and the U.S. is nowhere near even having the conversation about budgetary funding, let alone applying the principals.
Republicans defunding food stamps are, however, applying just part of the principal.  It’s just stupid and short sighted and hurts the overall message and movement of liberty and fiscal responsibility.  Paying farmers not to grow crops is bad policy.  The politics is even dumber – as there’s no way the Senate or President Obama will ever approve a bill that literally takes the food off of the plates of 46.6 million American households.
The exponential increase in the SNAP program is largely the result of the economic meltdown more than the changes in eligibility.  I have friends who would be hungry if not for this program.  I have friends who are still alive only because of the program.  I am all for minimizing government and bringing some fiscal sanity to Washington D.C.  Eliminating the Food Stamp program is not the place to start.

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