It’s no exaggeration to say that a nation’s long-run vitality and prosperity are correlated with the spirit of independence and self-reliance among its people. Simply stated, if too many people thinks it’s okay to ride in the wagon of government dependency, that a troubling sign that social or cultural capital has eroded.
Government policy obviously plays a role, both because politicians create various redistribution programs and also because they can set rules that help determine whether there is any stigma for relying on taxpayers. Some lawmakers even think recipients should be publicly identified, in part to weed out fraudsters and also to discourage dependency. Here are some passages from a story in the Washington Post.
If you receive government assistance in the state of Maine, Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald thinks the public has a right to know about it. …Macdonald said a bill will be submitted during Maine’s next legislative session “asking that a Web site be created containing the names, addresses, length of time on assistance and the benefits being collected by every individual on the dole.” He added: “After all, the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.” …Macdonald told the Portland Press Herald that …“I hope this makes people think twice about applying for welfare.” …Publicly posting personal information, he said, could encourage people to go after those “gaming the system.”
Needless to say, this approach causes great consternation for some folks on the left. Here’s some of what Dana Milbank wrote in his Washington Post column.
Rick Brattin, a young Republican state representative in Missouri, has…introduced House Bill 813, making it illegal for food-stamp recipients to use their benefits “to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.” …This is less about public policy than about demeaning public-benefit recipients. The surf-and-turf bill is one of a flurry of new legislative proposals at the state and local level to dehumanize and even criminalize the poor.
I admit it’s paternalistic, but if taxpayers are paying for someone else’s food, then shouldn’t they have the right to insist that recipients don’t buy junk food? My view, of course, is that the federal government shouldn’t be in the business of redistributing income, but that’s an issue we discussed a few days ago. Milbank also is upset that some lawmakers don’t want welfare benefits spent on frivolous things.
…the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 2258, punishing the poor by limiting their cash withdrawals of welfare benefits to $25 per day and forbidding them to use their benefits “in any retail liquor store, casino, gaming establishment, jewelry store, tattoo parlor, massage parlor, body piercing parlor, spa, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility, pari-mutuel facility, or sexually oriented business . . . or in any business or retail establishment where minors under age 18 are not permitted.” …another state that prohibits welfare funds for cruise ships is true-blue Massachusetts.
Again, I have to ask why it’s unreasonable for taxpayers to put limits on how welfare funds are spent? Setting aside my desire to get Washington out of the business of maintaining a welfare state, shouldn’t the people paying the bills have some right to decide whether they want recipients going to massage parlors and casinos?
Let’s now look at a very real-world example of how our friends on the left are trying to make dependency easier and more respectable. They now want to make it easier and less discomforting for folks to get food stamps. Here are some excerpts from a story in the Daily Caller.
A report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) looked at whether it should get rid of in-person interviews for those who apply to receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly known as food stamps. …the USDA with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducted a limited real-world test to see if the in-person interviews are needed.
The report looks at test cases in Utah and Oregon to gauge the impact on “client and worker outcomes,” but obviously didn’t consider the impact on taxpayers.
The report says that the increase of participants from 17 million in 2000 to nearly 47 million recipients in 2014 is one reason why the application process should be made easier and less costly, but others have argued that more relaxed entry requirements into the program are the very reason it has expanded so much.
The latter group is correct. If people can sign up for freebies over the phone, with very weak verification procedures, then it should go without saying that the burden on taxpayers will grow even faster.
And for purposes of our discussion today, this proposal would make it even easier for people to become dependents. The government already has turned food stamps into a welfare-state version of a debit card, which means that recipients feel less conspicuous about relying on taxpayers. Now they wouldn’t even have to visit a food stamp office when first signing up for the system!
The bottom line is that it will be very healthy for our nation if most people feel reluctant and/or embarrassed to become wards of the state.
Fortunately, there are some folks who already have this self-reliant streak. Here’s a blurb from some analysis by Angela Rachidi for the American Enterprise Institute.
…research shows that a sizeable number of eligible people do not participate in SNAP because they do not want government assistance. According to a 2003 USDA report on the subject, 27% of eligible non-participants indicated that they would not enroll in the program even if they were assured they were eligible. The report cited the desire to feel independent as the primary driver in not wanting benefits.
Thank goodness there are still a non-trivial number of Americans who don’t want to mooch off taxpayers. By the way, you may be shocked to learn that the people of California are the least likely to sign up for food stamps. Too bad the folks in Maine, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington don’t have the same spirit of self reliance. Heck, Vermont’s already famous for having the top spot in the Moocher Index.
P.S. While Dana Milbank apparently thinks there shouldn’t be any restrictions on food stamps, most taxpayers probably won’t be pleased to see these examples of their money being misspent.
- Using food stamps to buy luxury coffee at Starbucks.
- Buying steaks and lobster with food stamps.
- The Obama Administration rewarding states that sign up more food stamp recipients.
- Proposals to make it easier to use food stamps at fast food restaurants.
- College kids scamming the program for handouts.
- New York City giving food stamps to newly released prisoners and running foreign-language ads encouraging more people to sign up for the program.
- The Octo-Mom mooching off the food stamp program.
- The Agriculture Department running radio ads to lure more people into food stamp dependency.
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