Neither Scrooge Nor Patsy Be – Part Three

Neither Scrooge Nor Patsy Be – Part Three by Peter Burrows elburropete@gmail.com 1/24/14

In “Part Two,“ I discussed the reaction of a liberal young lady who was on Sean Hannity’s show last fall featuring seven liberal college kids and seven conservative college kids.   She said the show illustrated how liberals were compassionate and generous, conservatives selfish and stingy, or something to that effect.

She was wrong on two counts. The first, discussed in Part Two, was that non-liberals don’t think spending other peoples’ money qualifies as being compassionate.   Liberals, with their “it takes a village” mentality, can’t understand this.

The second and most important difference is that non-liberals think that most “compassionate” uses of tax dollars are either wasted or do more harm than good.   It’s is not just the disincentives built into welfare, but the inherent waste and corruption that always creeps into government programs.

A study published in April of 2012, The American Welfare State, by Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, lists 126 different federal programs to wage war on poverty, costing $668 billion in 2012.  Combined with state and local spending, he estimated we spend almost $1 trillion per year, or $61,830 per poor family of three, who if they received these benefits in cash , would get them TAX FREE!

If you suspect that all that money, instead of going to poor people, is going to the troops bravely fighting poverty from foxholes in government offices, you’ve broken the code. “Gosh,” you say, “why don’t we just give that family of three HALF that amount, $30,915, and eliminate all the poverty programs and save a ton of money?”

WHAT? AND FIRE ALL THOSE OVERPAID UNDERWORKED GOVERNMENT WORKERS?  YOU HEARTLESS CONSERVATIVE SCROOGE!

And those brave government poverty fighters, like their brethren in governments jobs around the world, know how to protect their turf.  Anybody who tries to cut these programs faces the indignant, self-righteous fury of the liberal establishment, which includes the mainstream media and most of the clergy.

The food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a good example. The number of people receiving SNAP has doubled to almost 50 million since 2008 under Obama, thanks in large part to the recession, but also to aggressive promotion and the elimination of work requirements for Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents – ABAWDs.

What critics fail to note, is that the SNAP enrollment also doubled between 2001 and 2007 under President Bush in a time of relative prosperity.  This means that the program has a life of its own, independent of the economy: It grows in good times and REALLY GROWS in bad times. ABAWDs getting free rides forever may fire up the critics, rightfully so, but they’re less than 10% of the total.

In dollar terms, the program has grown in the last dozen years from $17 billion a year to $78 billion.  Republican efforts to cut $40 billion from the estimated levels of spending over the NEXT TEN YEARS, that’s $4 billion a year on average, met with typical demagoguery.  Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) called it “one of the most heartless bills I’ve ever seen.”  (Patsy be he.)

Remember, we’re not talking actual spending cuts, just cuts to estimated spending, the level of which is conveniently obscured by the government practice of base-line budgeting.

If SNAP was in fact a real life line for the poor, who could argue?  Unfortunately, the program has always been gamed by the recipients.  One simple fact that liberals just don’t get: Poor people are poor, not stupid.  SNAP dollars are supposed to go for basic necessities, not booze and cigarettes.  Yeah.  Right.

The black market rate for SNAP benefits, now conveniently dispensed via a debit-like card called an Electronic Benefits Card, is anecdotally about fifty cents on the dollar. Until the beginning of this year, when welfare reform is supposed to close the “strip club loophole,”  these EBT cards were being widely abused.

In her 1/11/3 column, EBT Abuse: The Cash-for-Drunkards Program, Michelle Malkin notes that right here in the Land of Enchantment there were abuses going on: “In New Mexico, Jim Scarantino of Watchdog.org reported that in just a three-month period, EBT cards were used at multiple liquor stores, girly bars, smoke shops and casinos –.”

There has never been a concerted effort to crack down on SNAP abuse, for obvious reasons. The liberals are loath to question anybody’s integrity, especially if the program buys votes for Democrats, and the Republicans are too cowardly to get tough because they fear being called heartless or – GASP! – racists.

While I would eliminate SNAP, fire hundreds of bureaucrats and increase cash benefits in lieu of food stamps for the truly needy, that’s not going to happen.  Too many people with vested interests, too many uncritical supporters who need to be “compassionate”.

I do have an idea that I think would cut the cost of the program by fifteen percent or so, and that would be fifteen percent reduction right now, in real spending, not some mythical budget cut ten years from now.

The idea is quite simple: SNAP cards should be redeemable for CASH at seventy cents on dollar at any FDIC insured bank or savings and loan.  Since this is a better deal than the black market fifty cents,  recipients should welcome the option. It could be called “The SNAP Flexibility And Freedom Act.”

I’m betting fifty percent of the SNAP recipients would take advantage of this new and wonderfully compassionate program, which is how I’d sell it.  (Fifty percent taking a thirty percent reduction equals an overall fifteen percent reduction.)

Democrats will oppose it, for the simple reason that it would expose the waste in the program, and raise questions about  waste in many other poverty programs.

I emailed Rep. Pearce with the idea, but no response.  Sigh. Nobody listens to me.

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