Anti-hunger advocates in Iowa and beyond are firmly skeptical of the federal government’s latest food assistance proposal.
President Donald Trump is calling for significant changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as part of his budget proposal. The plan would replace a portion of benefits with a bundle of government-selected groceries.
The Trump administration is not only ignoring social service providers, but economists as well. A substantial body of research shows cash assistance is more cost-effective than providing goods directly to people in need.
Most Iowans want to see the federal government do the things the governments do best, and leave the rest to the free market.
Yet there is little doubt private food distributors and grocery stores are more efficient in delivering food than the federal government. No centralized government could possibly anticipate the diverse dietary habits of some 45 million people who receive assistance.
Support for the idea seems to be a product of a few Americans’ paternalistic instincts. It relies on the idea that the government can spend money more wisely than average people.
Many proponents would rather just slash or entirely eliminate federal anti-hunger spending, but they lack the political support to do so. This plan would create a massive new government function, riddled with waste, and ultimately counterproductive to advocates’ budget-conscious motives.
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They might imagine stories of welfare queens exchanging their federal benefits for fancy meals. Even the Trump administration’s budget proposal says the plan “prevents certain types of program abuse.”
In reality, however, the data show us SNAP recipients shop for groceries the same way as everyone else.
“There were no major differences in the expenditure patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households, no matter how the data were categorized,” U.S. Department of Agriculture administrators wrote in a November 2016 report.
Sadly, we suspect others support this plan out of contempt for the poor. They figure anyone who needs government assistance doesn’t deserve the supposed luxuries of free choice and self-determination.
Government food bundles do not represent the values of most of Americans, nor most Iowans. We live in a country prosperous enough to afford basic dignity for all of our neighbors, and we take pride in a safety net strong enough to ensure nobody starves.
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