The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Web Extra

September 20, 2013

Food stamp debate should be about jobs


Why he and others on the left are unwilling to connect the dots between a huge increase in the number of people on food stamps – officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)  -- and the Obama administration's disastrous economic policies (the non-stimulating stimulus, Obamacare, bashing "fat cats," "millionaires and billionaires" at every opportunity, "the government built it" mentality, suing a major employer for opening a plant in a non-union state, throwing billions at "green" companies that went bankrupt) means the debate will remain focused on how best to redistribute taxpayer dollars instead of how to create more money for everyone.

It's an expensive problem. SNAP costs rose from $15 billion annually in 2001 to over $75 billion by 2012, as the number of recipients grew from 17 million people to 47 million – one in seven Americans.

But the bigger issue is psychological and moral. Work brings meaning and purpose to people's lives. With the number of able-bodied adults working at record lows, it means a lot of people are adrift, and their families and ultimately the nation with them.

Just about the only people benefiting from the rise in food stamp use are those at the companies who make money off of their use. A 2012 report by the Government Accountability Institute found that JP Morgan, America's biggest bank, had made $560,492,596.02 since 2004 processing the electronic benefit cards that distribute money to SNAP recipients, for example.

The fact that corporations make money off of SNAP is not an argument against the program, but its skyrocketing costs need to be contained and won't be if the program continues as it has.

Right now states have no incentive to ensure that only qualified people receive benefits because the federal government picks up the tab for the program. If the federal government instead gave block grants to the states, they would have much more incentive to control costs because they would be a finite pot of money to work with.

Recipients also should not be enrolled automatically because of their participation in other government programs, an issue being debated in Congress.

These are not draconian reforms and should be enacted. But the bigger issue must be getting people back to work. Feeding the entitlement beast is a recipe for growing not just the welfare state, but a despondent nation.

Marta H. Mossburg is an independent columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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