As discussed yesterday in, “How to Respond to Poor Shaming” there is a growing sentiment in social media that those that rely on food stamps should not be allowed to purchase junk food with those proceeds. I also mentioned that today I would partake in a disemboweling of that argument. It’s now today and that makes this go time.
Below you will find each well known premise to the argument against allowing those on food stamps to buy junk food. I’ll then zealously refute each argument point-by-point.
People on Welfare Spend Frivolously
I believe this is the most often sited argument when it comes to junk food and food stamps. I’ve witnessed folks in social media recount vivid details of people with iPhones and BMWs (I do not lie) swiping EBT cards at checkout stands with a cart full of soda and sour patch kids. Meanwhile, they, the responsible taxpayer, suffer idly with their own basket filled with carrots and celery.
These stereotypes run largely unchecked. But let’s take a peek at the actual data, shall we? It turns out that food stamp recipients make wiser food choices than the rest of us even with their limited budgets. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that families enrolled in public assistance programs have a total budget of half of what families not enrolled in such programs spend. Kind of hard to fund a BMW on such a budget. In fact, while only 3% of families that do not receive benefits go without a car, almost 25% of those on public assistance are carless. Even more, these families devote 77% of their budget to all of the responsible stuff (housing, transportation, and food) compared to just 65% spent on the responsible stuff for families not on public assistance. When it comes to more frivolous spending, like eating out, two-parent families who get public assistance spend 4% of their budget on eating out. Single parents spend 3.5%. Compare this to families not on public assistance that spend 4.5% of (their bigger) budget on eating out. So really that is more than double the dollars spent on dining out.
In short, families on public assistance are spending more responsibly than you are with their smaller budgets. Take a moment to let that seep in. While you’re at it, let this seep in too. There is another stereotype that women on welfare will have baby after baby in order to increase their total government benefits. The fact of the matter is that the average family size of 3.7 people holds regardless of whether a person is on public assistance or not.
In summary, we should all directly proceed to shut our faces.
I Have a Right Because They are Spending My Money
I hear a ton of rattle in social media about “handouts”, and many of you prefer a more controlling tactic of being able to bestow all of your vast money knowledge onto the less fortunate because it’s your tax dollars that are paying for it. I have news for you. Not only do 55% of the population receive direct benefits from the government, upwards of 85% of the population receive an increase in total spending power from funds provided to them by the government. Allow me to explain.
The government has a habit of incentivizing choices and value sets that align with the public good. For example, the government sees it as valuable for families to procreate to grow future generations of American citizens. Due to this value, the government gives parents thousands of dollars every year in the form of a tax write off for each child they have. Those, like me, that do not have nor want children will never receive this benefit. Because of this you get many thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime (from the government) that I will never receive. Yet, I witness some parents make horrible parenting decisions. Some parents, heaven forbid, allow their children to eat actual candy and drink actual soda. Does that mean that their tax incentives should go away? No. Do I now have a right to instruct them on how to parent their children because my money is being used to help them afford their family? Come to find out, parents get wildly angry if you attempt to parent their children. Go figure.
80% of U.S. women have children, and over 66% of households in general contain children. That’s only one way that the government funds values that are in line with the public good. However, when those values are in line with those living in poverty, such as our values for nutrition, housing, or (G-d forbid) education, then they are suddenly called “handouts”. When those values are in line with the values of the middle class or wealthy class, that “handout” distinction goes away even though in every case tax money is being used to supplement income.
And now let me tell you to quit it with this whole “your money” thing. Public assistance programs give people a lift up and out of poverty. Want to know how it works? Read the op-ed I wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer entitled “How former homeless kid made it“. In high school my family of four lived off of $7,800 per year in government handouts. I benefited from empathetic taxpayers while growing up and while going through college. Good thing too. I’m now making a six figure salary and contributing handily towards all of the benefits that you receive from public goods as well.
Junk Food is Bad for People
In this premise you find a wolf in sheep’s clothing casting their judgements because, well, fruits and vegetables are more nutritious than Cheetos, so food stamps should be used to buy the more nutritious alternatives. Funny thing about that.
Turns out, we still have a whole lot to learn about food and its impact on our bodies. For many years food scientists and healthcare providers instructed us that fats were bad. Stay away from fats. Fats make you fat. Well, turns out that would have been true except it wasn’t. A physician friend of mine, Dr. Nick van Terheyden, sent me some more recent data that was shared at the Physician Symposium at this year’s national HIMSS conference. These “geospatial” maps use analytics to overlay childhood obesity rates in the Greater DC Metropolitan area with data on fast food purchases. Turns out the hotspots for obesity were not the hotspots for fast food purchases. Turns out the fight against obesity is super complicated. Imagine that.
Allow me to speak from personal experience here again. My family was on welfare growing up. I can assure you that none of us were receiving enough nutrition from public assistance programs to become obese. Try the SNAP Out of It challenge yourself and you will see. As a matter of fact, I was still but 45 pounds in the second grade. I didn’t break 100 pounds until my second year of college. Was this due to a “fast metabolism”? Actually, no. Come to find out that I actually have hypothyroidism (slow metabolism). Like many children in this world, I simply wasn’t being fed enough.
It Would be Easy to Monitor
Proponents of building a system that bars those receiving food stamps from purchasing certain foods feel that this program would be straightforward to monitor. Simply remove chips, soda, and candy from the list of things welfare recipients can buy. Easy, right? Not so much.
Let’s take soda first, for example. We will simply write off all carbonated beverages. Done. Wait. What about seltzer water? Or what about kombucha? Are they on or off the list?
Drawing the salty snacks line should prove easier. Chips, you are out of here! Wait, tortilla chips too? How about tortillas and oil? Can I just buy those and make my own tortilla chips? Are peanuts okay even though they are both salt ridden and high in calories? Popcorn would certainly be off the list except it is a whole grain so that doesn’t really work either.
Candy should certainly present us with fewer problems. If you are in the candy aisle, then you gotta go bye bye. Wait, what about sugar free candy? Or what about those with low blood sugar that need candy? Would gum be off the table too? What if I chew gum to keep me from eating ice cream? Oh, wait, what about ice cream? Or french fries? Or butter? Or ranch dressing to dip my carrot sticks in? Are we basing all of this on fat, calories, carbs or simply overall deliciousness? Certainly anything that is delicious must go.
As you can see, it’s not so easy to manage after all. Oh, and I picked the featured image of this post on purpose. Quite adorable to see mom and daughter sharing a moment together baking cookies. What if that mom had bought that cookie dough using an EBT card instead of cash? Still cute? Yes.
This is a Brand New Innovative Idea that Could Save Us All Millions
Not so much. Yesterday my friend Don Fluckinger sent me this LA Times article from back in 2004. Over ten years ago, the USDA rejected a proposed Minnesota ban on buying junk food with food stamps. In fact, the USDA issued a “strongly worded” response. They stated in their reasoning that such a measure would create both confusion and embarrassment in the grocery store aisle.
The USDA is strongly opposed to instituting such a measure, yet we are still talking about it. Why on Earth do we have this undercurrent of society that is so passionate about the way that people in poverty spend money making food choices? Hmmmm? I can’t even imagine why…
Shaming the Poor for Their Food Choices Allows Me to Project my Own Money & Food Shames onto Others So That I Can Bury My Business Under Layers of Anger and Judgement
Well, you do have a point there. You can read more about that here.