By administrative fiat, federal bureaucrats in the Biden administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently expanded food stamp handouts by almost 30%.
Yes, you read that correctly, your taxes are going to go up to pay for expenditures your elected members didn’t vote on.
And the expansion of these handouts from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while supposedly helping the less fortunate, too often creates dependency and sets people up for failure—much like many government programs. The success of welfare programs should be measured not by how many people are added to them but by how many people graduate off them and live prosperous lives.
With just a moderate work requirement and some eligibility reform, SNAP spending was curtailed by 16% as enrollees declined by 19% from 2016 to 2019. However, during the pandemic, Congress removed work requirements and left the decision to reinstate those requirements to the Secretary for Health and Human Services.
SNAP handouts were already increased by 15% just five months ago under the guise of temporary pandemic assistance and were set to expire on September 30. Those increases have now been made permanent, along with another 12% increase, for a whopping 27% rise from pre-pandemic levels, by bureaucrats rather than Congress.
A family of four will now be eligible to receive up to $835 a month in SNAP payments, even though they spent, on average, only $537 per month on food at home in 2019. Granted, food prices have increased in the last two years because of inflation, but not by 55%.
One reason for the dramatic SNAP increase is that the USDA is recommending people eat healthier foods, like fresh fruit, which tend to be more expensive. But there is evidence that increased SNAP handouts incentivize unhealthy diets—the opposite of the espoused motivation for the increase. On average, food-stamp recipients spend about one-fifth of their handout on soda, candy, and salty snacks, items which most people would consider unhealthy if not outright junk food.
The USDA is also recommending more daily calories because people now are heavier. You read that correctly—the government is prescribing more food to an overweight patient.
Augmenting SNAP handouts also adds yet another disincentive to working.
There is already a long list of government payments which have contributed to why people remain out of the labor market: normal unemployment benefits, $300-a-week supplemental unemployment in about half the states, up to $3,600-per-child tax credit, rental assistance benefits, expanded health care benefits, and extended weeks of unemployment benefits in many states.
There are also moratoriums on student loan payments and interest, foreclosures, and evictions. Some people haven’t paid their mortgages, rent, or student loans for over a year. When these expenses seemingly vanish and are replaced by gratuitous handouts, why work?
The housing-related moratoriums have set people up for failure since the full amount of unpaid rent and mortgage payments are due the day they expire. Unless a person has managed to stockpile all the missed rent or mortgage payments, that person will soon be looking for somewhere to live.
Similarly, many people with student loan debt have, over the last year and a half, become accustomed to not having student loan payments and have restructured their budgets accordingly. Repeatedly extending the student loan payment moratorium (and other moratoriums) has also created doubts as to when payments will resume. When payments finally do restart, many people will likely be unprepared to make their payments or other budget expenses.
These government handouts have contributed to the 10.1 million unfilled job openings in the country—which is 600,000 more than the total number of unemployed.
While this expansion of SNAP will add to the already gorged deficit, the greater harm is the lost economic activity in the years to come.
Because these programs disincentivize work and trap their participants in a cycle of dependency, they eliminate not only this year’s earnings, but all future earnings for those unfortunate enough to take the bait that is government assistance. That means less national income and fewer jobs filled for years to come.
The answer is simply to do the opposite.
Government assistance needs to be truncated, not augmented. There are more jobs available than people to fill them. A larger welfare state and greater reliance on government handouts are the last things America needs; self-sufficiency and work are the true paths to independence and prosperity.
Vance Ginn, Ph.D.