Have you ever given money to the food stamp program? Do you know anyone who has?
Actually, some people do occasionally make gifts to federal entitlement programs. But gifts to the entire federal government were a paltry $241 million in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. By contrast, Americans donated almost $300 billion last year to private sector charities in addition to volunteer time valued at $158 billion.
The money we spend on food stamps (technically called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) almost all comes from coercive taxation, rather than charitable contributions. For example, the United Way of Dallas donated $50 million to 90 private charities last year. The food stamp program was not among them. Even the government’s charitable giving program for federal employees ($270 million to 20,000 non-profit groups) does not list the food stamp program as an option.
What brings this to mind is Paul Krugman's column the other day in which he claimed that:
The food stamp program…tries to provide modest but crucial aid to families in need. And the evidence is crystal clear both that the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients really need the help, and that the program is highly successful at reducing "food insecurity," in which families go hungry at least some of the time.
But if Krugman is right, why aren't all the private givers, including federal workers, giving to it? Why are they instead choosing soup kitchens, Meals on Wheels, and hundreds of other ways of caring for people who need help?
The answer, I believe, is obvious. See, for example, FreedomWorks' case against food stamps. And in case it isn't obvious, I propose a market test: Let the food stamp program compete on a level playing field against every other anti-poverty program, private or public.
But first things first. There are about 47.8 million people on food stamps. And even though the economy is improving, jobs are more plentiful and wages are increasing, the number of food stamp recipients is rising, not falling — now reaching one in every five households in the country.