The Food Stamp Surfer

Food Stamp SurferAs any viewer of Fox News will tell you, America has become an entitlement nation. This claim is reinforced by example after example of individuals gaming the system or dissected across Fox’s political theater. The right’s fixation on the poor has become so blatant Fox has even come up with a pseudo-correspondent that fuels the misleading perception. Jason Greenslate, or “Food Stamp Surfer”, has been remarkably effective reinforcing the narrative of widespread welfare abuse. In fact, he was even mentioned by Representative Tim Huelskamp (R) on the House floor before a taking a food stamp vote, “You can no longer sit on your couch or ride a surfboard like Jason in California and expect the federal taxpayer to feed you.” Hmmm. I’m guessing Representative Huelskamp missed the irony.

The Republican grab bag of anecdotal examples is very effective in creating a “poor are lazy” perception. To many on the right, those who take advantage of entitlements or welfare services are parasitic or morally deviant. This unabashed stereotype is important when justifying their political ideology: Democrats want everyone to live off the government, Republicans want individuals to succeed driven by personal motivation which handouts undermine.

The problem with such logic is demographics paint an entirely different picture of welfare recipients. Did you know that half of food stamp expenditures benefit children? Or that one in five veterans take advantage of the program? Did you know that food stamps represent a minuscule 1.8% of our federal budget or that food stamp fraud accounts for less than 5% of the total program? Such information might change the perception of voters about the role of government which is why “Food Stamp Surfer” becomes the poster child of the Fox News repertoire. Collective data is not personal and unpersuasive. You might not know any of the millions of children and veterans that are supported by welfare but you do know your aunt’s best friend’s sister is sporting a $500 iPhone paid for by the government.

Misinformation about our Nation’s entitlement programs (Welfare, Medicare, and Social Security) is equally exaggerated. Even the word “entitlement” conjures negative connotation driven by ignorance and misunderstanding. Many Conservatives are enraged Entitlement Spendingthat we spend 57% of our federal budget on entitlement programs without any consideration to the demographics.  Over half of all entitlement dollars are spent on the elderly. Another 20% are spent on the disabled. 18% are spent on the working poor like Walmart employees. In fact, almost $1,000 annually is spent per employee offsetting Walmart’s benefit liability. You shouldn’t be thanking Walmart for low prices, Walmart should be thanking you.

So what of the remaining 9% able-bodied freeloaders drawing entitlements? Let’s hang them. I’ll get the tar, you get the feathers. But let’s be careful, in our haste to enact fairness and justice we might be punishing a demographic that has equal need for taxpayer’s help. There are thousands of students that are attending colleges and universities while trying to support families. Many are studying for high earning careers as dentists and doctors, easily returning the entitlements being invested today. Even if we do conclude the 9% are actual moochers like Jason Greenslate, we should still resist the urge to throw the baby out with the surfer.

When addressing the growing expenditures associated with the rising baby boom population, little has been proposed by either party. Instead, partisan rancor has been unleashed and misdirection has become the norm. I have several friends who openly blame President Obama for the escalating debt and the growth of entitlement spending behind Baby Boomers. This is incorrect for three reasons:

  1. President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
  2. President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements
  3. President Obama has not signed any law restructuring welfare or entitlements

Entitlement SpendingEven President Obama’s signature legislation, Obamacare, is deficit neutral (CBO) offset by mandates and penalties with no impact to our deficit.  Where our anger should be directed is government’s inaction, as the last major change to entitlements was the 2003 Prescription Drug bill. We should be holding the House of Representatives accountable, since the Constitution dictates laws originate in the lower chamber, to generate common sense bipartisan solutions. But herein lies the problem for the GOP-led House. Any changes to entitlement programs that do not include Medicare and Social Security reform are a wasted effort and any successful change will anger core constituents. Trying to repeal Obamacare 50 different times is a much safer play for House members interested in keeping their jobs through the next election cycle.

Even if undermining entitlements fosters partisan opportunities our problems are not disappearing anytime soon. I’m sure my Libertarian friends would suggest a free-market solution. Remember when Medicare was passed in 1965? Only half of our nation’s elderly had healthcare and costs associated with medicine were skyrocketing. The Sixties’ free-market solution was basically a Darwin-driven model. Can you imagine being a 55 year old senior looking for healthcare coverage after being dropped by your company’s insurer upon retirement?

How about charities? Can they fill the void? Based off of IRS data charitable giving (currently $300B) would need to increase three-fold to cover current liabilities. This also assumes every donation dollar is appropriated against entitlements; not building churches, saving rhinoceroses in Africa, or giving to one of Karl Rove’s SuperPACs.

Regardless of any proposed solution the very first step in delivering lasting reform is awareness. Data has become the newest inappropriate four-letter word being replaced with trivial anecdotal examples. But I get it, fully understanding issues takes effort and who wants to waste their time when partisan blogs are like crack to drug addicts (just slap “liberal” on this post so the right can disparage the content).

We need to avoid assuming our best-friend’s cousin scheming the welfare system is representative of millions of Americans looking for help. As Jon Stewart said recently, stop looking for the elusive “Welfare Bigfoot”. Start looking across the street, recognizing that single mother struggling to provide for her child, and be thankful we are in a much better place. Once we understand who it is we are helping, the solutions will become more clear.

Interested in what our government spends? Here are the topline 2014 Total and Welfare budgets.

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Matthew

Author / Editor
I am passionate about politics. What I find the most interesting is the theater, strategy, and positioning. My writing revolves around political process and impacts of policy decisions. I completed my undergrad at Arizona State and MBA at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN. I have worked in the consumer products industry for the last 12 years for Gillette, P&G, and Henkel. I am a husband of twelve years and father to four daughters (11,9,5,4).

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7 Responses to The Food Stamp Surfer

  1. Cindy says:

    We share similar political leanings and enjoy your writings very much. I must say we are discouraged by the efforts of those on the right to deceive and misrepresent the truth. The absence of logic and disinterest in truly understanding issues and their policy implications have us deeply concerned about the future of our nation. It seems that many have settled for the blame game rather than seeking for solutions that address root causes. I’m afraid some in our country would prefer to revert to the inhumane treatment of the poor in the early Colonial days – poorhouses, indentured children, etc. We maintain that “secret combinations” in the form of dark money, Citizens United, and other forces are behind much of the regressive views that are paralyzing our country at this time. Thank you for sharing your views with us!

  2. Thank You Cindy for taking time to read and comment.

  3. dee says:

    Great article, with DATA. I especially like the three reasons!! Perhaps reasonable friends who disagree with the presidents domestic policy, would benefit from reading this. will be I will be sharing!

    • howitis says:

      The problem is even when you throw data at these people, many of them still won’t believe it.

      Tell them that most entitlement money is spent on seniors and the disabled, and they will come back with something like: “That’s only because nowadays people dump their parents and grandparents in nursing homes so they can go about their selfish lives, instead of taking care of the elderly at home like we used to. Same with the handicapped. Whatever happened to taking care of your own? And what happened to churches and charity? There’s plenty of help from churches and charity out there, people are just too lazy and weak to go look for it and ask for it. Better to ask for charity than take a government handout!”

      Tell them that half of all food stamp money is spent on kids and they come back with something like: “That’s because too many kids have worthless druggies for parents sitting around the house getting high all day instead of going out and working, like they’re supposed too! Why should I have to pay to feed their dirty little brats? If you can’t afford to feed your kids, don’t have any! And too many of these kids don’t have fathers around. If their parents would stay married they wouldn’t need any help! If the fathers won’t step up, hunt them down and throw them in jail until they do! This country used to be a place where there were no single mothers, because girls didn’t have sex until they were married. Then we had all this ‘free love’ crap and we took God out of the schools and now look what happened! If those stupid ******* would just keep their legs together and stop sleeping around, they wouldn’t be begging for government handouts!”

      And don’t get me started on healthcare…..

      I hear things like this constantly from people in my own family–even my own parents–when I try to explain why I am a Democrat and why I believe such programs are necessary. Could they be better? Yes. And in an ideal, perfect world, we would not need them at all. But we do not live in a perfect, simple, ideal world; we live in a messy, complicated, and often very ugly world. That so many people can not –or will not–accept that reality, makes me despair for the future.

      What is even more ironic is that my own parents grew up dirt poor; my father was raised in a house that had no electricity or running water. You would like to think that coming from poverty themselves, they would have compassion for others, but they seem to have none. They beat their chests and proclaim that they “pulled themselves up with no government handouts”–ignoring the fact that “social welfare” programs like public education, public libraries, and public health (free vaccines) helped them “pull themselves up.” They seem to believe that if they can do it, everyone else can, too, and if you can’t…. well, see above. (Not that we were exactly “wealthy” when I was growing up; let’s just say I ate a lot of cheap macaroni and hot dogs when I was a kid, and if it weren’t for hand-me-downs, I probably wouldn’t have had any clothing at all.)

      There is no empathy or compassion for others in these people, and they refuse to change.

  4. Melissa says:

    I’m so happy I came across your blog.
    I’m a Mormon Democrat who has been feeling more and more rejected by church members because if my politics.
    I whole-heartedly agree with your article above and appreciate the references and statistics.

    What I have found in my discussions with Republicanirmon friends who haven’t rejected me is that our biggest conflict isn’t in values, but what the role if government should be. I find it interesting how so many Reps want less government, but want stricter moral laws enacted and enforced- or more commonly, just enacted. They don’t usually have a plan for enforcement. They haven’t thought it through that far- it’s just the principle they are fighting for. I just don’t think that’s always functional.
    Also they seem to want increased morality through government in private spheres, but they don’t even THINK or talk about a desire for increased morality in public spheres. I find it so hypocritical and frustrating. Anyways, I just needed to post my two cents worth. Peace and Love!

    • Hi Melissa —
      Thanks for being a supporter. It is interesting to hear perspectives from members trying to intertwine religion to fit their perception of today’s political parties. You will find in this blog data is the religion of our articles, and once you weed through the misinformation and skewed perceptions from our conservative member friends – the left can make a very compelling case as the party of true Christianity.

      • There is not left or right on the issue of welfare. It’s an illusion to make you think they are helping. It’s about both parties retaining power by holding your vote hostage to the check. If they never stole the money in the first place we could take care of ourselves. And by introducing religion into government control you are handing even more power over to the bank controlled legislature. Get out of the box you live in and open your eyes.

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