GOP view of food stamps far too black and white [UPDATED]Published 10:03am Monday, January 23, 2012 Updated 12:04pm Monday, January 23, 2012
When politicians talk about issues, they tend to speak in a lot of black-and-white terms and simple solutions.
The issue I would refer to most recently was the one in the Republican debates regarding food stamps.
According to the Republican philosophy, food stamps are hindering our economy. The reason, in addition to the fact that it contributes to higher taxes and deficit spending, is that, by giving out food stamps to people, we are making them complacent, and less likely to aggressively look for a job or work to obtain training for a higher-paying job. These food stamp recipients, Republicans say, are content to collect their government handout and sit on their rear ends. By taking away food stamps, recipients will be forced to get motivated, and they’ll find jobs and become productive members of society.
It’s a theory that is far too black and white for my taste.
I’m sure there are cases where someone is indeed “sitting on his rear end” collecting government checks. Certainly, the programs implemented in the 1990s that required many long-time welfare recipients to find work did some good in reducing institutional welfare.
I also question some of the unemployment insurance rules. One in particular, I believe, allows recipients to continue to collect paychecks while turning down jobs that aren’t up to the salary level of their previous job. To me, such a rule allows unemployed individuals to be “pickier” than they should be. It seems a more sensible policy would be, after, say, three months, an unemployed worker be required to take a job, even one that that pays less, and the government supplements their salary for a short time to help make up the gap.
But when it comes to food stamps, let’s get serious about this. The unemployment rate has been as much as 10 percent in the last couple years. A decade ago, it was as low as 4 percent. That means that, at one time, about 9 million Americans had a job at the beginning of the millennium, and since then lost it. Among those, there are certainly many that took jobs making significantly less than their previous ones.
A story I read explains that many food stamp recipients actually were working, but their wages were basically enough to cover rent, utilities, child care (many are single mothers) and car expenses. The food stamps are, as I suggested above, a gap filler.
If the point of the Republican presidential candidates is that the Obama administration could have done a better job of growing the economy over the last two years, there is some validity to it. My feeling is that the Great Recession was going to do its damage no matter who the president would have been, and if a Republican were in the Oval Office right now, the Democrats would be the ones able to throw verbal arrows about the economy. That said, I’m also not suggesting the Obama administration has done everything right in creating the ideal conditions for job growth.
On the issue of food stamps, however, if Republicans truly believe that our country would be a lot better off if we didn’t have them, I disagree.
The fact is, not every American adult has the skills – mental, emotional or motivational – it takes to obtain and keep a job. In the recent economy, there are many who have such skills and still can’t find a job.
And let’s face it, even if there are a percentage of food stamp recipients who are abusing the system or are unmotivated to find work, it isn’t as if they are living like kings.
Help the economy or hurt it, put a tax dent in my paycheck or not, I believe it is our duty as Americans to make sure that everyone in our country does not go hungry.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. E-mail him at email@example.com