Why is Uncle Sam working so hard to promote Food Stamps?

I heard a radio spot the other day, trying to sell folks on what a great deal Food Stamps are.  There were two women talking about how great one of their friends was looking and hinted that she was eating right and it was (somehow) because she’s on Food Stamps.

Some times I think I have just lived too long. When I was a kid, you didn’t want anyone to know that you were on Food Stamps.  Rightly or wrongly, there was a stigma attached to you if you couldn’t fend for yourself.  If you were on Food Stamps, it was temporary and you got off them as soon as possible.

I’m sure I will hear back from someone that the reason for the radio spot is to make sure the poor know it is available.  I don’t buy that argument at all.  Rich folks talk, middle class folks talk, and poor folks talk. All people talk – everyone tells their friends about good deals that they know about.  Food Stamps have been around a very long time and if someone doesn’t know about them, it’s by choice.

Some have turned it into a racket.  One of my wife’s friends related a story from the local supermarket.  A woman purchased a bag of groceries with Food Stamps.  She went directly from the cashier to the service desk, where she returned all the groceries and received her refund in cash and left.  I know you all have heard similar stories.

I admit I’m somewhat of a novice where Food Stamps are concerned.  But I thought the purpose of them was to help someone get enough food to live on so they didn’t starve.  I’m hearing now that you can buy quite a few things with them that some consider to be…well…non-essential.

I think Food Stamps exist because there is a legitimate need.  I’m fine with that – the poor in America, especially the children, should not be permitted to go hungry. But why in the world are we promoting it on the radio like it’s the new cool thing to do?  I don’t buy that they’re just trying to get the word out.  Trust me, Uncle Sam – THE WORD IS OUT!

With all the budget problems we have: owning so much to China, too much deficit spending, employment trending down, etc – Why in the world would we actively be spending money to drum up more demand for a program everyone already knows about?  Why is our government actively selling this program so they can increase participation in the program?

There’s only one reason I can think of for this – a concerted and deliberate effort to make more people dependent on the government.  Now, why would we want to do that?

Saint Leo


3 thoughts on “Why is Uncle Sam working so hard to promote Food Stamps?

  1. The radio ads began in 2004, and participation in the Food Stamp Program rose about 63%. Was the increase due to advertising or simply the economy? With all due respect, to suggest that it’s some kind of government conspiracy to make people dependent is ludicrous.
    I seriously doubt that poor people (or formerly middle class people thrown into poverty) are sitting around talking about food stamps, especially as a “great deal”. They may talk about Buy-One-Get-One-Free at Kroger, but not food stamps. Society and human nature have made sure that there is still an adequate stigma attached to receiving public assistance. Have you ever heard people talking about receiving food stamps? Granted, that’s unlikely in your social circle. You’re more likely to hear the stories of the Welfare Queen with a shopping cart overflowing with Porterhouse steaks, purchased with your tax dollars. Fraud goes on in every aspect of life. Medicare fraud is rampant, but nobody blames Grandma.
    I don’t know which non-essential items you’ve heard are eligible to be purchased with SNAP funds. I agree that it needs some tweaking. I would prefer that SNAP recipients have better access to fresh produce, but the price is prohibitive when trying to stretch a month’s allocation of funds. So they end up purchasing canned, frozen and pre-packaged foods at a lower cost, but with less nutritional value. And when we have to start hiring American citizens to pick our crops, the cost of fresh produce will skyrocket. That’s not meant to be commentary on illegal immigration. It’s just a fact.
    Sure, most people know about SNAP, especially in this economy. But many are unfamiliar with eligibility standards and benefits. Many elderly people don’t even suspect they’d be eligible. So many people have only recently come to live in poverty, who never imagined they would ever require food assistance. And there is a lot of shame involved in going down that road. It’s not “the new cool thing to do” no matter how you paint it. People who have been proudly self-sufficient their entire lives are now having to humble themselves and pray that their neighbors don’t see them paying for food with a SNAP card, or sneaking in the back door of a (nearly bare) food pantry.
    When I was a young bride, we were stationed at Ft. Benning, and our monthly military income including a housing allowance was $198.30. Out of that we had to pay rent, utilities, gas, a small car payment and insurance. There was no money for food. I’d never heard of food stamps. I nearly starved to death, and survived an entire month on frost I chipped off the inside of the empty freezer, and half an old box of Bisquick. Occasionally I was able to go visit with a relative and get to eat real food but eventually I wore out my welcome. I was ashamed to let anyone know I was starving. I probably would have been too ashamed to accept food assistance, even if I’d known it was available.
    I appreciate you recognizing that children shouldn’t go hungry, as they make up roughly half of all recipients. In these economic times, there should be an effort to soften the stigma associated with getting food assistance so people won’t starve in shame. If the ads result in fewer people going hungry, I’m all for it. If that’s where my tax money goes, that’s great. I’d prefer that to subsidizing some rich guy’s mortgage interest.
    I know my personal experience colors my opinions. I also know that financially secure people are often more comfortable believing that SNAP recipients are lifelong deadbeats, Welfare Queens and a drain on the system. They prefer to swap urban legend fraud stories instead of having to feel compassion for others. In today’s economy, any of us could quickly and easily become needy, no matter how secure you think you are, or how well you have planned for the future. One housing collapse could wipe out the investment you have in your home. One Wall Street swindle could wipe out your 401K and your savings. One trip to the hospital while the insurance company rescinds your policy could leave you in medical bankruptcy. There but for the grace of God….
    Being a logical thinker, it makes more sense to believe that the ads are meant to lessen the stigma and curb suffering. Another thought is that every SNAP dollar generates money for the communities where it’s spent, and supports agriculture & business. Yet another thought (to really stretch it) is that healthy children do better in school, and one day perhaps all of us will benefit from a better-educated, highly skilled workforce. Any of these explanations are more plausible than the government trying to make people more dependent.

  2. Thanks for responding, Carol. Sorry it took so long – some hectic things going on right now.
    I’m not against SNAP and I don’t think all the recipients are deadbeats (though, I’m sure there are a few – just there are in every Wall Street office and every corporation and every farm community).
    SNAP is a pretty good program as Government programs go. What I object to is the method of selling it. The spot I heard was clearly touting it as something really cool to do and urging folks to check it out. Even stating (and I am paraphrasing here), have a house? you might still qualify – have a car? you might still qualify. I do have some experience with marketing, and what I heard was not an offer to see if they could help or to ease the embarrassment of being broke – it was designed to bring in as many prospects as possible – much like the old car dealer pitch – “We’ll take ANYTHING in trade to put you in a new car”.

    As for a conspiracy – well, I don’t think there’s a conspiracy. That implies that some folks are working behind the scenes or secretly to make something happen. To me, knowing something about marketing, there are forces in our government who would like to see poor and middle-class people dependent and are actively pursuing that in order to forward their programs. I think people are better than this. Most people are looking for a helping hand, not a hand-out. But, in my opinion, the “helping hand” of the government comes with too many strings attached. Yes, I know this is one of those things that we will just have to respectfully agree to disagree about.

    BTW, my social circle is probably not what you might think. I don’t’ play golf or belong to a country club. I haven’t had a new car in 25 years. I have a wide range of friends from all over – some are pretty well off and some not so much. I’m not broke, but I probably watch my money closer than the next guy. We have very little debt because we don’t live an extravagant lifestyle. I don’t work for a company that provides healthcare as part of compensation – I buy it from my own pocket.
    You might say that I’ve been fortunate, but I think luck is where opportunity meets preparedness. There were some times in my earlier life when I was “preparing” quite a bit without much hope for opportunity. I’m not without some experience at being broke. I didn’t come close to starving like you (and God bless you for hanging in there and for caring about the unfortunate), but there were a few months when I didn’t know if I would have a job or food the next month. I don’t talk about this much, because it’s ancient history (since I’m ancient), but I haven’t forgotten how it feels.

    Again, thanks for responding. I look forward to the next time.


    • Oh, I wasn’t saying you were Thurston Howell III, or that you don’t have empathy. I know you work hard, and worked to get your education, and I assumed that most of your friends are similarly positioned. Of course, that doesn’t exempt anyone from being battered in this economy. But I don’t believe for a second that you’d turn your back on someone down on their luck. I didn’t mean to come across as accusatory toward you at all.

      I still have difficulty accepting that anyone’s agenda would include keeping people dependent on the government. I wish I had heard some of the ads. Maybe that would have given me a better idea of their intention, rather than just giving my knee-jerk reaction. I just don’t see why anyone would do that, unless there’s some financial motive beyond my understanding.

      I’m glad you made it through your hard times as well. My hard times were very short-lived, but you’re right….you don’t forget it, and it does make an impression that stays with you forever. And it’s probably good to have that experience so we are better able to have empathy for others. Like you, we are very careful with money and have no debt, and we take nothing for granted. Living as I do now, I’m not sure I could really understand struggling if I hadn’t experienced it myself. So I consider it a blessing.

      That’s all I have. Take care!

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