Sunday, July 25, 2010

Response to "A Conservative on Food Stamps: I Felt Like I Was Two Inches Tall" | BlogHer

I read a post on BlogHer written by Gianna Rae. In it, Gianna writes about a run-in she had at the grocery store with a cashier who implied that food stamps were wasteful and that she was a beggar for using them.

I am completely sympathetic to Gianna. She should have been made to feel like a lesser person for using a social service that is available to all who qualify. Services like welfare, WIC, and food stamps are part of a social safety net intended to prevent the worst things from happening to individuals and families. I'm in favor of these programs. In fact, we could be doing a lot more and I'm willing to pay higher taxes to have them, even if I never use them. I despise living in a society where it's possible for people to be homeless and where too many children go to bed hungry.

That said, the aspect of the the post that raised my eyebrow were the opening paragraphs where Gianna explained that she was politically conservative.

I believe it's OKAY to make a profit (for some people to be rich and others to be poorer), and I believe the government should NOT say it's okay to kill babies or trivialize people's right to life be it young OR old.


This is my opinion: I've paid my taxes and I AM paying my taxes. If there is a program out there that can help me and I've paid for it already, I am going to use it. Whether I use it or not, the government is going to take my money, and this way at least, for once, I get to reuse the money I've already paid in.

I would be the first to admit that I just don't understand conservatives, or to be correct, Republicans. Individual rights are good, except when it comes to abortion. Deficit spending is bad, except when it comes to the military. Big government is bad, except when it comes to legislating morality. But I digress...

It seems to me that a key difference between conservatives and liberals is how they decide who deserves what. Liberals believe that food, shelter, and health are things that everyone should have. Conservatives believe that only people who have earned them should have food, shelter, and health. The conflict in Gianna's experience occurred because she drew the line on deserving and worthy in one place and the cashier drew the line in another place. My solution is to not draw the line at all and say that we are all equally worthy.

In "The Wealthy Banker's Wife," Linda McQuaig wrote about how every family in the Netherlands received a family allowance. Every family, including the Royal Family. This approach signals that every child, from the poorest to the richest family, is deserving of support from society. Furthermore, it increases commitment to the program from all tax brackets. The wealthy are less likely to suggest cutting a program, because they don't benefit from it or don't know about it.

Family allowance is similar in Canada. There were (are?) no food stamps. They just gave people money and let them spend it on what they needed. When someone uses a family allowance cheque (not check) to pay for groceries, it's just not worthy of comment. In this system, Gianna's run-in would never have occurred.

I'm not saying that 100% of the money in either system goes to where it needs to go. But it is interesting to look at the rhetoric around "waste," because when we demonize, we are really expressing something that we hope never to be. In the Canadian/Dutch system, it is the wealthy banker's wife in the title of McQuaig's book who uses the family allowance to buy a new pair of silk gloves. The demonized figure in the American system are the leeches, as illustrated by one of the comments on the post.

My fiancé's brother and his family were on food stamps for a while, as he was getting paid triple what he used to. They never checked on how much he was making, or if it changed. Not to mention they also lied about how many people were in the house, so they were getting $500 a month in food stamps when they only had two people using them. They were out buying Red Bull's by the case, those big bags of candy, and all sorts of junk.

Not surprisingly, the socialist system demonizes the rich, while capitalist/individualist system demonizes "loafers." Also, not surprisingly, I'm more comfortable demonizing people who can defend themselves.

One final point... Don't you think it's odd that food stamps are organized by the Department of Agriculture and not the Department of Health and Human Services? It makes me wonder who food stamps are supposed to be helping, farmers or low income households.

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