In the 1980s, we heard stories about a so-called “Welfare Queen” pulling in $150,000 a year at the expense of the gullible taxpayer. And while the existence of that woman turned out to be a myth, there is a class of persons currently scamming the welfare system to their own advantage. You guessed it: politicians.

 Today, a staggering 48 million Americans find themselves currently enrolled in the federal food stamp program.  A good many would prefer not to be on the dole but would rather be working. But in today’s economy, these people find themselves with no alternative. Leave it to the political class to turn this tragedy to their own advantage.

Harry R. Jackson, writing in Charisma News, reveals that “people are not necessarily ‘turning to’ food stamps as much as they are being recruited to receive them.”

Instead of bemoaning the growing number of Americans finding themselves in trouble, some politicians appear to actually find that growth encouraging. Apparently they hope to promote the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a way to increase their own reach. Jackson cites this example:

“Since 2008, the USDA has produced Spanish language radio advertisements about SNAP, with the expressed goal of increasing the number of Spanish speaking individuals receiving food stamps. The spots were created in the style of popular Spanish language soap operas. In each episode, characters talk to one another about the benefits of food stamps and how important they are to good health. Often they encourage others to overcome their ‘pride’ of self-sufficiency and enroll in the program.”

It used to be that self-sufficiency was a character trait most Americans aspired to. Many of us will find ourselves in financial difficulties at one time or another, and the truly self-sufficient will anticipate such troubles by laying aside a supply of storable food for such emergencies. Sadly though, most people don’t think ahead.  They assume some government safety net will always be there to catch them.

At a time when the government is trillions of dollars in debt, that safety net is showing signs of imminent collapse. Yet still politicians and bureaucrats seem bent on creating a permanent underclass by manipulating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as something akin to a political payoff to help keep them in office. It’s sad enough that many Americans feel forced into the system. But it is something else entirely for the USDA to actively seek to increase those numbers by what amounts to a campaign of active recruitment. Jackson reports that the USDA’s website says the campaign exists so that everyone “can feed their families healthy, nutritious food.”

“Apparently,” observes Jackson, “they believe there are many ‘unreached’ Latinos who cannot do this without government aid.”

For some years my wife and I have been friends with a young couple who I’ll call Tom and Jeri. Two years ago Tom lost his job as a local truck driver. After months of fruitlessly searching for work, and finally seeing no other choice, they reluctantly applied for food stamps.

I say “reluctantly” because with two young children to feed, they simply could see no other option. Tom and Jeri are the kind of people who retained pride in their ability to be self-sufficient. They do not want to be on the dole and they do not like being there.

In other words, Tom and Jeri are precisely the kind of people the government is trying to persuade to get over their pride and get with the program. The subtle message is that they would be happier if they would simply learn to accept this as their lot.

I asked Jeri her opinion of Jackson’s article. What struck her most was the USDA’s boast about wanting to help Americans eat more nutritiously.

 “That’s a laugh,” she told me. “How many people on food stamps do you think go to that website to learn about that stuff?”

Jackson quotes Professor Gary Galles of Pepperdine University:

Studies find little difference between the nutritional adequacy of the diets of low- and high-income families, so that the problem is vastly overstated. Added food spending also often fails to improve nutrition, as less nutritious but more convenient pre-prepared food is substituted for healthier home-prepared food. Further, obesity is a more common problem among low-income families today than lack of food.”

We can have a separate discussion about whether it is the role of the federal government to be providing this aid in the first place. But we should all agree that it is cynical for government agencies to ambitiously market these dubiously effective programs at a time when so many Americans are experiencing real problems. It smells to me like political opportunism, and it stinks.

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