In an early strategic preparation for the struggle to avoid the fiscal cliff, the president and several Democratic luminaries decided to redefine as essential several entitlement programs. In an old fashioned way of manipulating the public, they began to redefine commonly held beliefs. In the interest of time, we will share only one example.
Last December, Newark Mayor Cory Booker spent a much-publicized week trying to live the life of a food stamp recipient. And after a nationwide media tour, we learned many valuable lessons. First of all, we learned that giving up your daily Starbucks causes headaches, and leftovers are not as pleasant as five-star dining. Publicity stunts aside, food stamp usage is indeed at an all-time high. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported recently that nearly 48 million people were enrolled in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). This is both the largest number of people and the largest percentage of the population ever.
In some ways this is unsurprising: we are in the midst of a weak economy. The program was intended to be supplemental; not a replacement for a family’s entire food budget. It follows that an increasing number of families might have difficulty putting food on the table. A closer look at the situation, however, raises some concerns.
The first is that people are not necessarily “turning to” food stamps, as much as they are being recruited to receive them. Since 2008, the USDA has produced Spanish language radio advertisements about SNAP, with the expressed goal of increasing the number of Spanish speaking individuals receiving food stamps. The spots were created in the style of popular Spanish language soap operas. In each episode, characters talk to one another about the benefits of food stamps and how important they are to good health. Often they encourage others to overcome their “pride” of self-sufficiency and enroll in the program.
The USDA believes that increasing SNAP enrollment among the Latino population will improve their overall health and well being. The USDA’s website, explaining why it wants to increase enrollment while the federal government is running a trillion dollar deficit, says the campaign exists so that everyone “can feed their families healthy, nutritious food.” Apparently, they believe there are many “unreached” Latinos who cannot do this without government aid.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.