Posted by: bkivey | 26 June 2012

Eating on the People’s Dime

A recent article and essay in the local newspaper addressed an issue that’s of growing concern, but that many people would prefer not to address: the rampant use of food stamps (officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) to purchase junk food. There don’t appear to be any formal studies on the purchasing habits of SNAP clients, but as any grocery or convenience store clerk will attest, food stamp abuse is rampant. I say abuse, because in the words of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon,

“The mission of SNAP (is) to help low-income people get the nutritious food they need while they work to get back on their feet—”.

A laudable goal, but we’ve all stood behind people laying goodies on the counter and then pulling out a food stamp card to pay. If you’ve spent the week digging ditches, or getting out quality work on deadline, this isn’t going to endear the program, or it’s clients, to you.

This overwhelming anecdotal evidence, coupled with an increasing awareness of obesity, especially among lower-income folks, is making many people say “Wait a minute. Why are we on the one hand providing access to junk food, and on the other hand paying for obesity-related health problems among SNAP recipients?” As I noted in this post, fast food chains want in on the Federal gravy train. I’d love to  hear why it’s proper for someone working 50 hours a week to fund restaurant meals for someone on public assistance.

In his essay ‘Unhealthy eating habits, courtesy of food stamps’, Paul Diller makes the point that anyone is free to buy whatever they want with their own money, but if they’re going to eat with taxpayer money, there should be some controls on what the money can buy. Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article expanding on this theme, and reports on the USDA’s (the agency responsible for administering SNAP)  lack of interest in monitoring food stamp use. Ms. Eng quotes from a USDA document on restricting food stamp benefits:

“No evidence exists that food stamp participation contributes to poor diet quality or obesity.”

The statement is true, because, as the document notes:

“There is no strong research-based evidence to support restricting food stamp benefits.”

Later in the article we learn that there’s no research-based evidence, because the research hasn’t been done. This is circular reasoning. USDA does plan to launch a feasibility study on gathering point-of-sale (POS) evidence for food stamp purchases, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a sense of urgency. If the study focuses on the technical aspects of gathering information, it’s pretty pointless. Private companies do this routinely, and do it well. Loyalty programs are designed specifically to track consumer purchases so that appropriate offers can be made. The only real difficulty in obtaining POS information on food stamp purchases would be legal.

Critics of food stamp purchase restrictions make no distinction between public and private money. Ms. Eng quotes an email from the Greater Chicago Food Depository:

“We believe that choice leads to dignity and that individual choice should not be impeded. We provide food for hungry people and help people access SNAP without placing judgment on their choices.”.

It’s axiomatic in some circles that being ‘judgemental’ is bad. It’s not. If you’re using your money, I don’t care how you spend it. It’s your money. If you’re spending my money, damn straight I’m going to want, and deserve,  a say in how it’s spent. The flip side of  ‘help’ is ‘control’. If you want societal assistance, the trade-off is you’re going to have to accept societal control over your life.

Today in History

1284 – Pied Piper lures 130 children of Hamelin away (actually happened)

 The Wikipedia article makes for interesting reading on something most of us learned as a fairy tale.

1498 – Toothbrush invented

1916 – Cleveland Indians experiment with #s on their jerseys (one game)

I read this and my mind started riffing (see below).

1959 – Queen Elizabeth & Pres Eisenhower open St Lawrence Seaway

Ike’s long gone; Elizabeth still holds the throne.

1963 – Kennedy visits W Berlin “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner)

1977 – Elvis Presley sings in Indianapolis, last performance of his career

1979 – Heavyweight Muhammad Ali confirms that his 3rd retirement is final

My father had the opportunity to meet The Greatest. I asked him what he said, and he told me “The same thing everyone else says: ‘How’s it goin’, Champ?'”.

Riffing on Numbers

When I read the entry above on the Indians ‘experimenting with numbers’, I had this little mental exposition:

Hi, my name is Blair, and I’m a numeroholic. I started using whole numbers socially, and soon moved to fractions, then decimals. I briefly tried Roman numerals. I thought that I could control my use, because I only used during the week at school. Then a teacher turned me on to algebra. I was mixing letters and numbers, and started using on the weekends. I liked the feeling I got when I solved word problems. Irrational, transcendental, complex numbers: I used them all. I couldn’t stop. Then it was geometry and trigonometry. Enablers in authority positions encouraged my use, saying I was good at it. I started doing math for fun.

While still in high school I discovered calculus. It raised my consciousness. I now realize that algebra was the gateway math. In college I turned into a hard-core math junkie. Multivariate calculus, power series, differential equations, statistics, topology, linear algebra, ring theory. I memorized the unit circle and trig function curves. While my friends were out partying, I shut myself away, using dozens of integral forms at a time. No one tried to stop me, in fact, my peer group encouraged it. I’ve been using math for decades now, and I like it.



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