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Government Advertising to Boost Food Stamp Enrollment

Byron York reacts to a CNNMoney story titled “Government wants more people on food stamps” by snarking, “And Democrats reacted angrily when Gingrich called Obama ‘food stamp president.’” Curious as to why the government would want more people on food stamps, I read the story.

 More than one in seven Americans are on food stamps, but the federal government wants even more people to sign up for the safety net program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been running radio ads for the past four months encouraging those eligible to enroll. The campaign is targeted at the elderly, working poor, the unemployed and Hispanics.

The department is spending between $2.5 million and $3 million on paid spots, and free public service announcements are also airing. The campaign can be heard in California, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, and the New York metro area.

So, a cynical ploy by a socialist agency to help re-elect the most socialist president since, well, ever by getting yet more people hooked on Uncle Sugar’s money?

“Research has shown that many people — particularly underserved seniors, working poor, and legal immigrants — do not understand the requirements of the program,” said Kevin Concannon, a USDA under secretary.

The radio ads, which run through June 30, come amid a bitter partisan fight over the safety net program. Republican lawmakers want to reduce funding for the benefit or turn it into a block grant program, which would also minimize the cost. Democrats, however, are not willing to make major cuts.

Well, sure. It’s like a huge campaign donation paid for by the taxpayer.

The issue has become so heated that Newt Gingrich called President Obama the “food stamp president” to show how he’s increased government spending.

I guess he’s trying to put that record as far out of reach as Cy Young’s win total. I mean, seriously, advertising to get people to go on food stamps? Who but Food Stamp President Obama would do something like that.

President Bush launched a recruitment campaign, which pushed average participation up by 63% during his eight years in office. The USDA began airing paid radio spots in 2004.

Oh. Way to ruin a good talking point, CNN.

Apparently, there’s some sort of economic downturn going on and a lot of people are having trouble affording food and the federal agency charged with doing something about that is trying to get the word out that there’s a program in place to help.

Some 46.4 million people are in the food stamps program, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. That’s just a touch below the record high hit in January.

Still, more than one in four Americans eligible for food stamps do not participate, according to USDA records. And the rate is much lower among the the elderly and people just above the poverty line. Nearly two-thirds of folks in these categories aren’t enrolled.

In one ad, an elderly woman is surprised to learn that her friend is on food stamps. The friend explains that now that she’s retired and on a fixed income, the program “helps me eat right when money’s tight.”

“Millions of low-income seniors struggle to afford life’s necessities like food and medicine,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Enrolling in SNAP can help ease that struggle.”

Deficit hawks, however, don’t want to see the government spend more money on food stamps at a time when lawmakers are trying to reduce the size of the federal government. The deficit for fiscal 2012 is projected to top $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row.

In fiscal 2011, the federal government spent more than $75 billion on food stamps, up from $34.6 billion at the end of fiscal 2008, according to the USDA.

“We ought to be looking for ways to save money in the program, not to encourage more people to use it,” said Chris Edwards, an economist with the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization.

Look, there’s an argument to be had as to whether the federal government ought to be in the business of giving money to people to buy food. Or whether it makes sense to have the same eligibility threshold in Alabama and New York. And, certainly, we’re all in favor of more efficient operation of government offices. But it’s a bizarre notion, indeed, that the best way to save money on a government food assistance program is to count on the fact that a lot of poor people also happen to be uninformed about the benefits to which they’re entitled.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ben Wolf says:

    The current conservative crop has an odd fixation on karma, believing (or pretending to believe) that people always get what they deserve, that cosmic justice is the natural order. Don’t have a job, you must be lazy or stupid! Don’t have food, go get a job! They utterly reject the concept of involuntary unemployment or just plain bad luck, they reject that one can benefit or suffer, succeed or fail through no action or fault of their own.

    I suspect this is the result of fusing a political party with religious extremists beginning in the 1980′s and culminating in what we see today. Republicans for the most part didn’t used to think this way.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 5

  2. rodney dill says:

    Will Vote for Food

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 10

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The very last sentence of the blog post I think speaks volumes. The phrasing and such.

    The other way that sentence could have been written is as follows:

    But it’s a bizarre notion, indeed, that the best way to save taxpayer money on a federal government food assistance program, during a time of trillion dollar federal budget deficits, is to spend more federal taxpayer dollars to encourage more people to use the program, when a significant portion of those eligible for these welfare benefits nevertheless will eschew the program, because it negatively affects their self esteem or because logistically speaking they receive their meals as part of their subsidized housing.

    In any event, the whole food stamp train wreck is yet another exhibit in the case of block granting federal taxpayer monies to the states. Having Uncle Fed in charge of directing where and how these food stamp monies get spent makes less sense than spending federal taxpayer dollars on abstract art.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 15

  4. Herb says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: The SNAP program is already run by the states. Block-granting the funds would only put an artificial cap on how much can be spent, which seems like it will save us money, since we’re capping it, but since it’s need-based, we could conceivably have a scenario where need is greater than the cap. Indeed, one can argue we’re living in just such a scenario now.

    What’s a bigger waste of money? Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on food assistance and filling bellies? Or spending hundreds of millions of dollars on food assistance and leaving people hungry?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  5. walt moffett says:

    the advertising/outreach is all part of law setting up the Food Stamp program, would also be bizarre to criticize bureaucrats for doing what the Congress wants. That we maybe spending too much money and in the wrong places/lurching to a bread and circuses notion of government are rants for another day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  6. Racehorse says:

    There was a time when the government encouraged people to look for jobs instead of a handout. There was a time when people were too proud to get on welfare and food stamps (I know a lot of people who qualify but would never take food stamps). I have been in stores and watched people pay for all kinds of things with food stamps and then out to the parking lot, smoking a cigarette and getting in their BMW, Lexus, or Acura.
    The best way would be to give people a larger tax cut or deduction and let them use that for whatever they wish.
    The government has created a whole generation that feel that they are “entitled” to something. That something is taxpayers’ money!

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 21

  7. Herb says:

    @Racehorse:

    “That something is taxpayers’ money! “

    Really….again with the “It’s taxpayer’s money” stuff? If your objection is that taxpayers’ money is being spent, let me remind you that is the purpose of taxpayer money. If my government isn’t going to spend it on something useful, then they shouldn’t take it.

    But if your argument is that the SNAP isn’t useful, then….you’ll have to do a little better than tell us about that time you saw a smoker in a BMW with a SNAP card.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 4

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Herb: I have a really hard time believing that anyone that tells these foolish anecdotes has ever actually driven through the parking lot of a welfare office to see what types of cars people down on their luck actually drive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  9. James Joyner says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: @Racehorse: Again, there are arguments to be made against the existence of a federal food stamp program. But it’s strange to argue that we should have such a program but do nothing to ensure that the people most in need of it benefit–on account of it’s expensive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  10. PJ says:

    Foodstamps?
    Hell NO!
    Let them eat their envy and resentment of the rich.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  11. Markey says:

    “President Bush launched a recruitment campaign, which pushed average participation up by 63% during his eight years in office. The USDA began airing paid radio spots in 2004.”
    ——————————————————–

    What a RINO…………

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  12. Markey says:

    “But it’s strange to argue that we should have such a program but do nothing to ensure that the people most in need of it benefit–on account of it’s expensive.”
    ———————————————-
    Stop making sense Joyner! Did you not learn anything as a Alpha btry Gridsmasher? Geezzzz….

    .-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  13. Mike says:

    @Racehorse: hey, you forgot the T-bone steak and Cadillac. Shesh, at least get the talking point right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  14. Mike says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Probably true, but Michelle Malkin has an inventory of what their counter tops are made out of. You’d be surprised on the number SNAP cards sitting on them granite counter tops, next to the pack of smokes and bottle of Jack.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  15. grumpy realist says:

    @Racehorse: Pray tell me what sort of job is available for a stay-at-home mother, taking care of three kids, who hasn’t been in the work force for ten years or more, when her husband just decides to walk out on her. And don’t say alimony and child support will take care of them, because it won’t. You’re damn lucky if you get alimony for more than three years, and as for child support, quite a lot of vamoosing parents never pay up.

    My grandmother had to deal with my grandfather walking out on the family in the middle of the Depression. She survived, but not without paring everything to the bone and inflicting a lot of psychic damage on her children. Who knows what would have happened if she could have had something like food stamps?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  16. Apparently, there’s some sort of economic downturn going on and a lot of people are having trouble affording food and the federal agency charged with doing something about that is trying to get the word out that there’s a program in place to help.

    Exactly, and food stamp enrollment is one of our scarier measures of bad this downturn is.

    I have not problem with programs to seek waste, fraud, and abuse, but I suspect that what they’ll find is a lot of people who, once rent is made, have little or nothing left for food.

    There’s a measure for that too. They call it food insecurity, and this chart at the USDA shows the jump following the 2008 crash.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  17. @James Joyner:

    Again, there are arguments to be made against the existence of a federal food stamp program.

    Heh. If there are, we didn’t see them from Tsar or Racehorse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  18. bk says:

    @Mike: He also forgot to describe them as “young bucks”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  19. To the CATO comment at the end: ““We ought to be looking for ways to save money in the program, not to encourage more people to use it,” said Chris Edwards, an economist with the Cato Institute, a libertarian organization.”

    The most economically efficient way to minimize social safety net spending and disability spending is to get aggegrate demand back to its potential, thus increasing earned income, thus increasing labor market participation, thus increasing employment, thus increasing tax revenue, thus decreasing the need for SNAP, MA, UI etc.

    Doing that would require some more government spending as they are the major player that is not credit constrained right now AND toleration of an inflation rate above 2.0% for several years. We might actually have to have the horrow of Reagan and Bush the elder inflation rates of 3.0 to 5% per year… and the Republic survived.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  20. There might be a related story at the WSJ. Google search for:

    “Up to 95 Million Low-Skill Workers in Danger of Being Left Behind”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  21. Rob in CT says:

    The thing that worries me isn’t the government pay poor people’s food bills, or advertising the program so eligible people actually know they are eligible.

    The thing that worries me is that so many people are eligible. That’s the actual problem, dontcha think?

    Foodstamps aren’t causing unemployment (any more than unemployment insurance does). More foodstamp usage is the result of more unemployment. Unemployment, by freaking definition, is the % of people looking for work who can’t find any. And we all know that the number doesn’t even include people who are working fewer hours than they’d like and whatnot.

    If there were jobs available, I believe the vast majority of people who can work (e.g. leaving aside the single-mom w/multiple kids who can’t afford childcare so she can take a job) would. The jobs just aren’t there. Many have been either outsourced abroad or replaced by computers/robots. Others are missing due to slack demand because, well, too many people are out of work, in debt, or otherwise constrained. What wealth there is (and there is still a lot of it here) is increasingly concentrated.

    Think of it this way: unemployment before the crash was what? 4-5% or so? When that number doubled, do you actually believe that ~5% of the population suddenly suffered some sort of morality amputation? Or maybe it’s more likely that a massive financial panic and resulting recession and slow recovery simply means there are far more people looking for work than there are jobs (the ratio is about 3 seekers to every 1 opening, isn’t it?)?

    From a policy standpoint, what Dave Anderson said.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  22. I’m currently listening (youtube) to Tyler Cowen talk about why so many people are buying 10 year Treasuries at negative 2 percent interest.

    The flip side of that, of course, is that the government is borrowing at negative 2 percent.

    I think the Fed is really improving its own book with Operation Twist, and yeah, that really does improve the ability to spend on the fiscal side.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  23. anjin-san says:

    Will Vote for Food

    If only you would think for it…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  24. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    Thank you, James. That’s all I can say right now. Thank you. And because I know how flat this medium is, and thus how easy to misunderstand because you can’t hear my tone of voice, I’ll just add, I’m not being sarcastic.

    Thank you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  25. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    I suspect this is the result of fusing a political party with religious extremists beginning in the 1980′s and culminating in what we see today.

    It goes deeper than that, Ben. There’s a deep well of Calvinistic thinking in this country that goes back to before the Revolution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  26. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I have a really hard time believing that anyone that tells these foolish anecdotes has ever actually driven through the parking lot of a welfare office to see what types of cars people down on their luck actually drive.

    Unlike you, I have actually been in the position of needing welfare, and I don’t believe you actually really have been in any parking lot of a welfare office. Or, if you have, it was a large office building with dozens if not hundreds of other services, agencies, and/or businesses having nothing to do with welfare, and you, being filled with contempt for poor people, decide that if there’s a brand new, fancy-looking, expensive-looking car in the lot, it must be a welfare client driving it.

    You are a fool — a callous, heartless, pathetic idiot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  27. @Kathy Kattenburg:

    There are some psychology (or sociology?) studies which show, sadly, that citizens’ compassion for the less well off falls during hard times. It’s probably some kind of self-protective thing. “If I need more for myself, we can less help ‘them’”

    But again, when the government can borrow at negative real rates of interest, one would think we could move beyond that.

    Or heck, we could note that Afghanistan is racking up higher bills. But then that brings in an even more painful memory, that the GOP has said defense spending, as opposed to food stamps, is necessary to maintain the economy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  28. (I’m receiving emails this morning from neighbors who want a soup kitchen, a few blocks away, in an adjacent city, closed … because it is a ‘bird feeder’ for the homeless. I’m ignoring those because (a) they won’t manage it, and (b) what can you do for such people?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  29. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    I have been in stores and watched people pay for all kinds of things with food stamps and then out to the parking lot, smoking a cigarette and getting in their BMW, Lexus, or Acura.

    ANOTHER idiot. I have received food stamps for many years because of severe financial struggles and not having any income at all, or only low-wage work, and your “watched people pay for all kinds of things with food stamps and then out to the parking lot smoking a cigarette and getting in their BMW, Lexus, or Acura” is the oldest stereotype there is about food stamps and other needs-based programs and there is very little if any truth in it. Specifically, there is NO WAY that any food stamp recipient could buy cigarettes or any other non-food item with their food stamps, because the electronic reader you slide your card in will not accept any non-allowed items. There are some items that you (being you) might decide should not be considered food — I can buy soda, coffee or tea, Sweet and Low or Equal, and ice cream with my food stamps, but (1) being low income is not a crime to be punished with denying access to any edible substance that gives some pleasure; and, arguably even more to the point, (2) because my food stamp allotment is limited, and once I use it up I have to wait until the next month to get more, and the amount I get is so small (relative to the cost of food) that it NEVER lasts past, at most, the 20th of the month, I have to be, and am, very careful about what items I use my precious allotment to pay for. I wish I could buy Diet Coke or chocolate ice cream regularly but I don’t because I can’t waste any part of my $99 a month on stuff like that. And there’s no reason for me to believe that anyone else receiving food stamps behaves any differently from me. Most probably are even more strict with themselves, if they have young children they have to feed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  30. grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: If someone ever did see someone with a BMW/Lexus/whatever picking up food stamps, I can made quite a few predictions:

    1) the person picking up food stamps was female and divorced.
    2) She’s driving around in the BMW/Lexus/whatever that she got as part of the divorce settlement (her husband kept his own BMW/Lexus/Masarati) and wondering like hell how to pay the next car insurance bill, if she still has insurance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  31. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg:

    I took Gromitt’s comment to be a criticism of those (like Racehorse, above) who like to make outlandish claims about Reaganesque “welfare queens” driving luxury cars. So, not really an idiot, IMO.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  32. Mike says:

    @Rufus T. Firefly: Yes, I took it the same way, calling B.S. on the stereotype racehorsey is trying to perpetuate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  33. KansasMom says:

    @Kathy Kattenburg: While I applaud your passion Kathy, I feel confident that Gromitt Gun is on your side on this. His/her poin’t being that you are more likely to see a 12 year old mini-van with 200,000 miles on it than an Acura and fools who repeat these types of anecdotes are speaking of something they know nothing about.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  34. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    @Rufus T. Firefly:

    I took Gromitt’s comment to be a criticism of those (like Racehorse, above) who like to make outlandish claims about Reaganesque “welfare queens” driving luxury cars. So, not really an idiot, IMO.

    You’re right. I read his (her?) comment way too fast. I read it again, and I’m not sure why or how I misunderstood it, because it was clear he was disparaging that point of view, not recommending it.

    I apologize, Grommitt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  35. Kathy Kattenburg says:

    @KansasMom:

    While I applaud your passion Kathy, I feel confident that Gromitt Gun is on your side on this.

    I know. I read your reply above, and Rufus T. Firefly’s, went back to his comment, and saw immediately I had misread it (my fault, not his because his meaning was clear).

    Sorry, Grommit!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2