Food For Thought
Dec 04, 2009
The headlines read “Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades.” The situation has changed a lot since I was Secretary of Agriculture. We were trying to get control of the growing cost of food stamps. We were beaten up in the press because we classified ketchup as a vegetable. It is a vegetable. It’s a tomato. Anyway, we felt there should be some work requirement to receive food aid.
It’s a new day now. The Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp Program helps feed 1 in 8 Americans and 1 in 4 children – 36 million people. On top of that, USDA estimates that there are 15 to 16 million eligible people that are not getting Food Stamps. We are reaching only about two-thirds of those who qualify.
With national unemployment at over 10 percent and another 7 percent more that have given up looking for work, the Program is growing at a record rate.
Some regions are in worse shape than others. One-fourth of the population in some counties receive Food Stamps. In 750 counties, one in three blacks are on the Program. In St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans, half the children are on Food Stamps.
The severity of the situation cannot be blamed just on the recession. Single mothers often times stay single so they can continue to get Food Stamps and other government assistance. There are some counties and cities where Food Stamps have been a way of life for decades from generation to generation.
The Program is well-intended and is a life saver for many, but it is also abused by some.
As a farmer wanting to sell as much food as we can, I like the Program. Also, I sympathize with those in need and, in that regard, I like the Program.
But at the same time, I worry about the abuse of the Program and the creation of a whole new entitlement. Do we demand healthcare as an entitlement, food as an entitlement – can housing be far behind?
That’s your “food for thought” for this week.
Until next week, I am John Block from Washington, D.C.