Rep. Andy Harris of Mayland and Angela Rachidi, a senior fellow and the Rowe Scholar in opportunity and mobility studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), have some ideas on reforming the SNAP program to deal with obesity among low-income Americans. While this is a laudable goal, there’s a problem with what they propose in a new op-ed at The Hill. It doesn’t go nearly far enough. They write:
Indeed, let’s talk about incentives. Let’s talk about incentivizing people not only to eat better but also to get off the damn program altogether. In our current system, the incentives run the wrong way; it is, not to put too fine a point on it, too damn comfortable. We can start by restricting what people can obtain with their SNAP benefits.
Were I given my druthers, I would remove the government from food assistance altogether. There are other avenues; churches, for example, have always been good at providing charity. Since I can’t have that, I’d settle for eliminating any federal involvement, as these programs are not an enumerated power of the federal government and, if one cares about the Constitution, have no legal basis to exist; the states could handle them more efficiently. But I guess I can’t have that either; like it or not, Washington will be involved.
Here’s my answer. Back when SNAP was referred to as “food stamps,” those stamps were big, highly visible paper coupons. Now, as I understand it, SNAP recipients are given, essentially, a debit card. Let’s not only go back to paper coupons, but a step further; those on supplementary food assistance receive big, 8 1/2″ by 11″ printed coupons, clearly marked “Government Assistance Nutrition Voucher.” These vouchers will allow the recipients to obtain specific items: bulk rice, dry beans, clean ground beef and turkey, dry pasta, and so forth. No soft drinks. No bottled water. No pastries. No candy. No prepared or processed foods. No more “SNAP Accepted here” at Papa Murphy’s, or premium meat shops.
I’ve proposed this before and have been hit with the argument, “You can’t tell people what they can and can’t eat!” My reply: “If I’m paying for it, I sure as hell can.” The taxpayers are on the hook for all this, and incentives should be aimed at getting people into the workforce and off these programs. The purpose of government assistance like this should be to keep people from starving to death; it doesn’t have to be comfortable and there should be some societal onus to it. Make it just a little embarrassing, and definitely make it apply only to American citizens; handing out these programs and similar ones to people who are in the country illegally should stop, forthwith.
These programs are costing the American taxpayers billions every year, and are in desperate need of reform. Addressing the obesity problem is one reason to do so, but there are more compelling ones, including changing incentives to turn people towards productive pastimes instead of letting them languish in a safety net that has become a hammock. The taxpayers are picking up the tab for SNAP. Restrict it to healthy, bulk foodstuffs. Restrict it to American citizens. Make it a little embarrassing. When that’s done, let’s take a look at the other many and various welfare programs.