Wednesday, April 14, 2010

40 Million Americans Using Food Stamps

I'll let the headline speak for itself; the article's good, too.

Just one thing I wanted to comment on.  When they talk on the news about the "recovery" and how consumer spending is returning to its normal state, I wonder how much of that consumer spending is due to the food stamp debit cards or the unemployment checks (which are always being extended by the Senate).  Retailers, including Costco and Family Dollar, are crowing on increased year-to-year sales as a result of allowing the food stamp cards to be used.  So, any perceived boom in consumer spending seems to be more likely to an increased number of people on the dole, than any new job creation.  I could go on and on about how this ties in to the larger issue (the deficit), but I think you get my point.

I did want to talk about food stamps a bit more though.  I read an interesting discussion on some board awhile back, about food stamps and how the government made a transition from recipients using stamps & coupons to using a debit card.  Someone who once used food stamps remarked that while using these stamps at the market was a source of stigma and humiliation, it also provided the necessary momentum for her to pull herself out of poverty.  She felt that replacing the stamp with a debit card was, in a sense, removing that stigma for the recipient but at the same time, making that person more likely to stay dependent on public assistance and not, so to speak, "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." 

I'm not trivializing the shame that many people must feel by taking public assistance, and I'm sure that many must feel it, no matter if they are using a government-issued stamp or a debit card to buy the essentials.  But shame can also be a persuasive motivator for people to put their lives back together and find gainful and profitable pursuits, and finding ways to lessen that shame (in the form of the debit card, for example) can result in the unintended consequences that often come with good intentions.

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