Why are people on food assistance programs allowed to buy luxuries?

An editorial from the Wall Street Journal caused me to wonder why I have had to weekends for 6 weeks straight in order to make a deadline when 35% of my income is going to people who don’t even work for a living.

Here’s the anecdote the author recounts:

Recently I had to run into that store and, sizing up the three lines, chose to stand behind a woman with one item in her cart. It was one of those large ice-cream cakes. When the checkout person said “Forty-one dollars,” I wasn’t the only one who blanched. The shopper’s son, around 12, repeated it as a question: “Forty-one dollars?”

I quickly calculated that the woman’s cake was eight times more expensive than the kind I make at home to celebrate birthdays. The mother ignored her son’s question.

She took out her benefits card, swiped it through the machine, and they were off. My turn.

I stood there, wondering what lesson the young boy takes away from this transaction. Does he grow up with the faintest understanding of delayed gratification—that you have to earn your money before you can buy candy—or, in this case, an ice-cream treat? I wondered how we arrived at this point as a nation. I also felt like a chump.

How can this happen? Here’s how:

[O]ver the last four decades, our government has quietly done away with almost all of the restrictions once placed on food assistance. SNAP cards (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) can be used to purchase practically anything with the exception of liquor and cigarettes. These cards are also openly and illegally sold for cash, which allows the recipient to buy anything they want, including cigarettes and liquor.

Food assistance is helping many families keep their heads above water when they would otherwise not get by, and many of these families watch every dime. But the system also allows people to flagrantly disregard the program’s original purpose.

Of course there are instances of fraud in every corner of the government, from Congress to defense spending. Why single out food stamps? Because, with over 48 million Americans now using some form of food assistance and few restrictions, the possibilities of waste are unlimited.

Is there no shame in laziness and irresponsibility any more?

There are only 311 million people in the United States, and 48 million of us are on some welfare program, while half of us don’t even pay income taxes. Why am I working to pay for these other people? Why do people who vote for big government social programs think that I can afford to get married and have a family when I have to pay for all of the single mothers on welfare? Why does everyone think that they are being generous by giving away the money I earn? Why does everyone think it’s OK for people who don’t work to steal from  people who do work?

Maybe instead of redistributing money, we should redistribute work ethic.

4 thoughts on “Why are people on food assistance programs allowed to buy luxuries?”

  1. “Maybe instead of redistributing money, we should redistribute work ethic.”

    Sweet! That’s the line of the week so far. Redistribute morals and discernment while you are at it.


  2. Interesting differences between countries. In Canada, lottery tickets, alcohol and cigarettes can’t be purchased on those cards. Even grocery store gift cards won’t pay for lottery tickets or cigarettes (our grocery stores don’t sell alcohol except in Quebec). If people have cash, of course they can buy whatever they want and no one can tell if they’re on assistance or not, but our system is moving away from sending out checks to using the cards. I don’t know how well that’s going. When I had a customer try to use one when I worked as a grocery store cashier, I kept getting an error message, so they were still having technical problems with them just a few years ago.


  3. Several years ago I worked two jobs to support my family. My part time job was at a local grocery store where I can tell you I saw no shortage of food-stamp cards. In many cases, the people were grossly obese and would occasionally have more than one full cart, sometimes as many as three. I admit it was extremely difficult to overcome a judgmental attitude towards these folks but I had to remind myself that I didn’t know all the details surrounding their circumstances. Even more difficult to suppress anger when they would leave the store in a new vehicle. Still, we must maintain our integrity in the face of possible and blatant misuse of the system. After all, I don’t see an end to this problem any time soon.


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