Economy & Budget

Feeding America for “Free”

At investment conferences, I often ask the audience, which consists mainly of mature investors: "How many of them are on Social Security and Medicare?" Most raise their hands.

Then I ask, “How many of you are on food stamps?” All the hands go down.

Why? Because there’s a means test to qualify for food stamps. To qualify, a family of four must make less than $28,668 a year. Investors who attend investment conferences tend to be wealthy and make a lot more than $28,668 a year.

Yet, despite this severe income limitation, the number of Americans on food stamps is rising dramatically, and is now approaching 40 million, almost double what it was six years ago.

 

Today one out of every eight Americans is getting assistance, due in large part to the Great Recession.

The program is pretty generous: A family of four can get up to $668 a month of free food using a food stamp card. The cost: $59 billion this year alone.

What’s worse, the USDA encourages people to sign up. The USDA has gone out of its way to make it easy to remove the stigma of this welfare program. No longer do poor people use stamps. Instead they get a special debit card.

“Getting Free Food is a SNAP!”

The Obama Administration has also changed the name of the program. Instead of the Food Stamp Program, it’s now called the politically correct “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” or SNAP for short, as in “Getting Free Food is a SNAP!” LBJ, who created the food stamp program in 1965, would be pleased.

USDA also encourages Americans to sign up for food stamps (er, sorry, I mean SNAP) or inform the government of people who they think should be on food stamps. USDA just awarded grants of up to $5 million to increase participation in SNAP.

"The health of our nation—of our economy, our national security, and our communities—depends on the health of our families," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These grants will allow us to improve access and increase participation in our SNAP that serves as a vital resource to the most vulnerable Americans. Breaking down barriers to participation will help this Administration deliver on its goal of reducing hunger and improving nutrition across the country."

Food stamps isn’t the only federal welfare program expanding like wildfire. Medicaid, which provides healthcare to low-income Americans, is skyrocketing and costs four times more than food stamps. Today over 50 million low-income children, pregnant women, elderly persons, and disabled individuals receive over $250 billion in assistance.

Unlike food stamps, the costs of Medicare are shared 50-50 by the state governments, and now takes up to 22% of each state’s budget. For many states, Medicaid a nightmare, fraught with fraud and cost overruns.

The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 did wonders to reduce the cost overruns, frauds and excesses of LBJ’s Great Society programs of 1965. But now the Welfare State is ballooning again, and one wonders whether a poor person is better off working at the new generous minimum wage of $7.25 per hour (plus benefits), or getting on welfare and enjoying the fat benefits of free food and healthcare at the taxpayer’s expense.

I wonder how long it will be before investors at financial conferences start raising their hands when I ask, “How many of you are on food stamps?”

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