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The farm bill
August 21, 2013 1:43 AM   Subscribe

"So, that brings me to the Farm Bill. Which the fucking Republicans want to pass without Food Stamps. A lot of very intelligent commentary has been written on how the Farm Bill has always been a compromise bill, wherein Food Stamps are traded for support for agribusiness, and how this compromise is breaking down. But you know, I don't feel intelligent or reasoned or informative on the topic. What I feel is fury and betrayal. I know, first hand, real live personal, how utterly and vastly important being able to eat can be.
posted by MartinWisse (130 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's an idea: cut the agricultural subsidies instead of the food stamps. You save more money and get rid of a terrible policy.
posted by Justinian at 1:56 AM on August 21, 2013 [37 favorites]


From the comments:
I don't take pleasure in saying this, but I honestly think that on some level these people don't want to make "tax-paying, productive members of society" out of immiserated poor people. They want the immiserated to stay that way, in order to make sure that everyone else stays in line.

This desire can frequently be found expressed in clear language in policy debates prior to the Great Depression, and again in similar debates in recent years. The fact is that if we guarantee individuals minimal-but-decent food, shelter, and healthcare, they become far more liable to tell their awful boss to take this job and shove it. This is of course the last thing the world's awful bosses want. Some of those people will drop out of the workforce and pursue careers as layabouts, but many others will go into business for themselves in some manner, a prospect made much more attractive when failure doesn't entail starvation and exposure to catastrophic health costs. The last thing incumbent businesses want is for their employees to feel that they don't desperately need to hold on to their jobs. Too much of that and you have (1) a workforce you can't push around as easily and (2) even worse, new competitors.

Capitalism, conservatism, and the American thing that calls itself "libertarianism" are all about this at heart: the defense and maintenance of incumbent privilege and private tyrannies. All that stuff about empowering people to compete in a free market is nothing more than cant. People are far more likely to endure private tyrannies when the abyss just outside the walls is a pit with no bottom. It's important that the abyss be kept that way. That's why they advocate things like abolishing food stamps. Your argument is absolutely correct and won't remotely change their minds, because what they say they want isn't at all what they actually want.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:01 AM on August 21, 2013 [231 favorites]


Whether or not you agree with anarchist politics, I cannot suggest to you any cognitive tactic or strategy that will better serve your efforts to comprehend society and politics and economics than to be always, constantly, forever looking for the power and who's got it and who it's over.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:03 AM on August 21, 2013 [59 favorites]


On preview, you and Jonathan Chait agree, Justinian.

Fortunately, even if the Farm Bill fails to be passed, according to Ezra Klein on WaPo's Wonkblog, food stamps will continue to be funded at the federal level (albeit at the same level they currently are), and farm subsidies will fortunately/unfortunately still be funded (albeit at lower levels from the 1949 Farm Bill).

However, the implosion of the GOP's Farm Bill (and the failure of their THUD Bill) is important in the larger scheme, too. For the first time this Congress, a significant number of GOP Congressmen are on record voting against proposed GOP legislation because it is too conservative. This is a big wedge, and with the death of the immigration bill from House GOP intransigence on the subject and heightened demands to hold the whole federal government hostage - or even follow through on the threat to tank the global economy by letting the US bounce off the debt limit - and as mentioned, the failure of the GOP's THUD Bill, there's a lot of concern as to what the fuck is actually going on with the GOP. Some see it as proof that Boehner will eventually bend and break the self-imposed Hastert Rule, while others think that it's proof that the fight between the inmates and the guards in the GOP will drive us over the cliff while they bicker.
posted by Punkey at 2:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


the American thing that calls itself "libertarianism"
But how American is libertarianism, really? Its most influential champions have usually been immigrants fleeing revolution who align themselves with whatever awful hereditary elites in the home country precipitated the revolution in the first place. Shouldn't we consider that libertarianism is actually a form of crypto-tsarism—nostalgia for a lost world of untrammelled aristocratic power?
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


lydy, in the comments:
The thing is, it makes no fucking sense. Food Stamps, CETA, got me on my feet. They created, as if by magic, a tax-paying, productive member of society. I have paid back in taxes many, many, many times over what they invested in me. Which is, of course, the way it's supposed to work. And I have to think does work most of the time. I did not find being on Food Stamps a particular hardship, I wasn't particularly embarrassed to have to pay with little fake money at the grocery store. But I also had zero interest in remaining on them once I had an actual income. I have never begrudged paying taxes. I know exactly how much good a little bit of redistributing the wealth can do. The thing I find so amazingly baffling is that I can't imagine what they want from me. I've done everything that they wanted, I did everything right. I got a job. I got a better job. I got some education so I could get an even better job. I consume, often foolish fripperies. I participate in the great American dream. But what they really want is for me to have died in a gutter before I was twenty. Why? In the end, it genuinely feels personal, not about policy at all. They've never met me, how can they hate me so thoroughly?
posted by davidjmcgee at 2:16 AM on August 21, 2013 [131 favorites]


But how American is libertarianism, really? Its most influential champions have usually been immigrants fleeing revolution who align themselves with whatever awful hereditary elites in the home country precipitated the revolution in the first place. Shouldn't we consider that libertarianism is actually a form of crypto-tsarism—nostalgia for a lost world of untrammelled aristocratic power?

It may be more charitable to say that rather than crypto-tsarism it's a reaction to the sheer terror of living through a revolution.
posted by atrazine at 2:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Isn't food stamps continuing at the current level while farm subsidies reduce to 1949 levels the best case scenario?!? I should put on my best libertarian rhetoric and email my republican congressmen asking him not to pass any farm bill.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:44 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It may be more charitable to say that rather than crypto-tsarism it's a reaction to the sheer terror of living through a revolution.
Maybe. But I'd also wager that the psychic trauma that comes from exile and loss of social status isn't the kind of thing likely to produce a coherent—let along "charitable"—political ideology.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:28 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


cut the agricultural subsidies instead of the food stamps

Food stamps ARE agricultural subsidies, disguised as an anti-poverty program. Apart from any other reason for giving poor people money to pay for food, pumping money into the consumer-end of the food chain also has a market effect of keeping prices high and customers plenty. All of that money eventually trickles up into the pockets of agri-business. Food stamps are part of the agri-business economics which is why they are part of the Farm Bill.

Better to have an honest debate over public spending for anti-poverty than to allow Democrats and Republicans yet another non-transparent way of rewarding campaign donors.
posted by three blind mice at 3:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


>Food stamps ARE agricultural subsidies, disguised as an anti-poverty program.<

Bingo. And they should be decoupled. Farm subsidies have created a terrible incentive structure for industrial agriculture; a social safety net is a necessary thing.
posted by enrevanche at 4:03 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Maybe. But I'd also wager that the psychic trauma that comes from exile and loss of social status isn't the kind of thing likely to produce a coherent—let along "charitable"—political ideology.

Of course, an ideology based on post-traumatic stress isn't likely to make much sense.

Bingo. And they should be decoupled. Farm subsidies have created a terrible incentive structure for industrial agriculture; a social safety net is a necessary thing.

Theoretically that is surely true but there is a very good reason that Democrats have never seriously tried to do this which is that historically they have been able to keep food stamps funded even when they were in the minority by supporting the farm bill as a quid-pro-quo. Breaking that link would have risked precisely what some Republicans want to do now.
posted by atrazine at 4:11 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I have paid back in taxes many, many, many times over what they invested in me. Which is, of course, the way it's supposed to work.

I agreed with the entire rest of this comment except for this. We don't feed the poor so that they'll pay us back and we make a profit. We feed the poor because we are not monsters.
posted by DU at 4:20 AM on August 21, 2013 [115 favorites]


I was going to post this except for the whole, y'know, "[d]on't link to friends'... sites." Anyway, very powerful.
posted by jiawen at 4:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


As DU's statement implies, one of the more pernicious elements of contemporary capitalism is convincing society, at large, that all interaction is an capitalist transaction, that everything must be seen through the lenses of competition and profit. When we accept that conceptual framework the debate against GOP priorities is already lost, as the only thing left to argue about is how much profit we should be taking. In that debate any policy which is grounded in the idea that it's simply the right thing to do, is already a loser. (The irony, as many have noted, is that the GOP is putatively a Christian party and Christ's teaching are explicitly ground in simply being the right thing to do and, indeed, condemn being profit-centered and seeing people as mere means.)
posted by oddman at 4:35 AM on August 21, 2013 [27 favorites]


Sadly, Republicans have been pushing cuts to food aid programs for a while. Here's an article from March (with a tiny bit of positive to offset the awfulness of supporting and promoting starvation).
posted by eviemath at 4:42 AM on August 21, 2013


If you had told anyone from a period in time before the late 19th century that you could feed all the hungry with such a small percentage of the total budget they would have been incredulous that it was possible and certain of their own violent deaths if they didn't do it.
posted by atrazine at 4:56 AM on August 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


Well then, are there political consequences for the GOP at a more granular level? Since all politics is local and more immediate are representatives in unassailable positions due to gerrymandering? It is a sincere question since I have been on a govt. politics diet.
posted by jadepearl at 4:57 AM on August 21, 2013


This is similar to a comment that I made in a previous thread about food aid. One of the striking differences, though, was that I was the guy at the crisis hotline; I was the one that knew about the food banks and where the food stamp office was, but it was a while before I used them (and only infrequently even then) because I didn't put myself in the category of people who needed help, I was the one who gave it. I think it was precisely because, even though I had been trained (in order to be a crisis hotline volunteer) in empathizing with the callers, I still thought of them as The Other, those class of people who have to use things like shelters and food banks and temp work services. And then I crossed over.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:59 AM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Maybe. But I'd also wager that the psychic trauma that comes from exile and loss of social status isn't the kind of thing likely to produce a coherent—let along "charitable"—political ideology.

This very well desribes my boss -- a not-recent immigrant from a country with an unstable, bureaucratic, all-pervasive, and corrupt government, which went through a revolution and still doesn't understand how to do democracy. He's a smart guy and has some political insights, but mostly what he has is a lifelong distrust of government in any form. So he is pretty much against taxes, regulations, public works, and so on.

I suspect a lot of other libertarians just turn off their brains and think Ron Paul is cool.
posted by Foosnark at 5:02 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


For anyone who has ever been dependent on welfare or food banks or food stamps, someone else who wants to shut them down is the enemy. Even though I have never been on welfare as an adult and havent been on benefits for about 20 years, I react viscerally to politicians who cut welfare -- I know that they don't care about me or people like me.
posted by jb at 5:04 AM on August 21, 2013 [26 favorites]



I agreed with the entire rest of this comment except for this. We don't feed the poor so that they'll pay us back and we make a profit. We feed the poor because we are not monsters.


You may or may not be a monster but the monsters also need to persuaded so you need to make a fiscal case. Unfortunately, they don't care because they want are persuaded by a rabid punitive morality above all else.
posted by srboisvert at 5:11 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agreed with the entire rest of this comment except for this. We don't feed the poor so that they'll pay us back and we make a profit. We feed the poor because we are not monsters.

I think this was rather meant to illustrate (maybe a bit exaggeratedly) how taking care of hunger can actually be an important step to get poor people out of poverty. That food stamps are more than just food, they can literally (and I mean literally) put the power in will power by providing receivers with enough energy to function.

It is important to reiterate this given how such forms of redistribution are often demonized as supporting some imaginary idyll of eternal and carefree funemployment for lazy parasites.
posted by ipsative at 5:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


>>Food stamps ARE agricultural subsidies, disguised as an anti-poverty program.<>Bingo. And they should be decoupled.

OK, I'm confused here. How is it possible to feed people without having the money go to those who grow the food? I suppose you could force a small-farmer co-op layer on top, but that would require a lot of administration. Isn't it better just to allow people to buy what they want, and deal with agribusiness separately?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not a religious person. However, based on the precepts of Christianity, I imagine a heavenly conversation with lawmakers that goes like this:

Did you feed me when I was hungry?

No, I told you to leave your family and work harder.

Did you clothe me when I was naked?

No, I told you that you should be ashamed and go away.

Did you shelter me, when I had no place?

No, I sent you into the night to find a bed in the street.

Did you tend to me in prison?


No, I made sure that you suffered thoroughly in prison.

Did you care for the poor, the widow, the orphan?

No, they needed to learn to care for themselves.

Did you give away all that you have to follow me?

No, I believe that you want me to be successful and bloom my potential.

Did you feed me when I was hungry?

No, I could tell that you really didn't need food.

Did you follow the words that I had given you?

Yes Lord!
posted by zerobyproxy at 5:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [126 favorites]


You may or may not be a monster but the monsters also need to persuaded so you need to make a fiscal case.
Remind me again why we're persuading monsters?
posted by fullerine at 5:45 AM on August 21, 2013


You may or may not be a monster but the monsters also need to persuaded so you need to make a fiscal case.

Remind me again why we're persuading monsters?


Because we have to work together. We can't always just work with people we like to make things happen.
posted by JanetLand at 5:49 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


fullerine: "
You may or may not be a monster but the monsters also need to persuaded so you need to make a fiscal case.
Remind me again why we're persuading monsters?
"

Because the monsters have power.
posted by anansi at 5:50 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Remind me again why we're persuading monsters?

Calling them monsters makes it easy to ignore, disparage or ridicule the person and/or their views. They're just people with a strange value system, who currently have some level of power to affect the lives of others. Recognize that and organize backup to legally remove them or neutralize their power while they're in office
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:58 AM on August 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


Does anyone else get the feeling that Sauron is actually leading the Republican Party? Because, you know, how about just a little compassion, a little humanity?

If we're not here to care for the other creatures that share this pretty blue rock with us in at least some basic manner, wtf are we here for?
posted by nowhere man at 6:11 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Calling them monsters makes it easy to ignore, disparage or ridicule the person and/or their views.

Som views really ought to be disparaged and even ridiculed, though; the people behind them, no, but the views are fair game. Ridicule and disparagement can actually serve to neutralize those who misuse power sometimes, or at least can help mobilize people to neutralize them.
posted by kewb at 6:12 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're just people with a strange value system, who currently have some level of power to affect the lives of others.

I can think of a few folks throughout history that had "strange value systems" that it would've been better not to tolerate one bit.
posted by nowhere man at 6:14 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


No one said we should tolerate them, simply that calling them monsters gives them a power they don't and shouldn't have. They're people who managed to convince some amount of other people they should be in office, that's it. Every voting season is a chance to get rid of them.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:17 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not a religious person. However, based on the precepts of Christianity, I imagine a heavenly conversation with lawmakers that goes like this:

It's hard not to see it that way. One of the challenges, though, is that the conservative Christian mental model of the problem isn't what you describe. They believe -- nay, insist -- that the real solution is private charity, some from individuals and some from organizations that form around important problems.

"Don't help the poor" may be the ugly reality for many political leaders, but the rank and file simply do not see it that way. Religious believers do give to charities and nonprofits more frequently than anyone else, so it's not simply a matter of trying to avoid the tab. Instead, they tend to insist that confiscating money from people via taxation eliminates the very act of charity and compassion that is so essential to cultivate.

The problem, of course, is the scope and scale. Individuals and private charities are rarely equipped to deal with large-scale systemic problems (as opposed to isolated incidents of financial hardship), and in an increasingly pluralistic society we must account for those who are caught outside of a sustainable belief-community.

Which is to say, most Christians I have known have compassion, and a set of counterproductive assumptions about how to approach systemic problems. Explaining how the latter undercuts the former has always been more successful, in my experience, than suggesting they're lying about the former.
posted by verb at 6:25 AM on August 21, 2013 [39 favorites]


If we're not here to care for the other creatures that share this pretty blue rock with us in at least some basic manner, wtf are we here for?

If you have to ask, you probably can't afford it.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:27 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


We don't feed the poor so that they'll pay us back and we make a profit. We feed the poor because we are not monsters.

Actually, both are true; an excellent illustration of both the differences and interrelations between politics as personal principles (how one believes things should be) and politics as public practice (how things are actually accomplished).

In practice, the politics of getting food stamps to hungry people is independent of whether or not there be monsters in the supply chain.
 
posted by Herodios at 6:27 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem, of course, is the scope and scale. Individuals and private charities are rarely equipped to deal with large-scale systemic problems (as opposed to isolated incidents of financial hardship), and in an increasingly pluralistic society we must account for those who are caught outside of a sustainable belief-community.

I've actually heard the argument that if we let people get even richer, then they would magically be orders of magnitudes more charitable. Even discounting the fact that a small number of people getting vastly richer creates vicious cycle situation with a whole lot of people that are dirt-poor, they just assume that will happen despite the absence of any evidence to the contrary.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:30 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


There's no reason why we can't have two good reasons. Feeding the hungry, and ensuring a stable food supply for everybody that's less susceptible to the vagaries of an unregulated market, are both worthwhile goals for a modern society to pursue.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:38 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've actually heard the argument that if we let people get even richer, then they would magically be orders of magnitudes more charitable.

Isn't this the whole premise of trickle down economics? And hasn't it been pretty thoroughly debunked in both theory and practice at this point?
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Does anyone else get the feeling that Sauron is actually leading the Republican Party?

Bad as they are, I'd have to say it's more like Saruman, who made a deal with Sauron/Satan to expand his own power.

Wanting to cut down the forests to fuel his fortress and genetically modified armies.

Using guile against former allies and the tools of the enemy.

Sending spies and provocateurs throughout Middle Earth.

When all was lost, spent the remainder of his power vindictively ruining the idyllic Shire with industry and pollution, and imprisoning the hobbits under a police state run by thugs.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:40 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Calling them monsters makes it easy to ignore, disparage or ridicule the person and/or their views.
It also makes it easy to be lazy about our own views. Just to clarify, nobody's actually proposing feeding the poor here, right? Just feeding the poor that happen to live within our political borders? If the 300 million people in the US were representative of the 7 billion people in the world, that would make the "good" side of this debate 95.7% monsters; taking differing levels of income into account would probably bring us above 99%.
posted by roystgnr at 6:45 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


And to tie two threads together, this quote from John Rogers:
"There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:48 AM on August 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


I don't take pleasure in saying this, but I honestly think that on some level these people don't want to make "tax-paying, productive members of society" out of immiserated poor people. They want the immiserated to stay that way, in order to make sure that everyone else stays in line.

This is probably true, but the writer makes it sound like a conjecture. It's not. TANF (temporary assistance for needy families, or welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) are about social control, quite explicitly! Here's the very first lines from Clinton's 1996 welfare reform bill:

The Congress makes the following findings:
(1) Marriage is the foundation of a successful society


Now, why would that appear in a bill which is ostensibly about alleviating poverty? Because all of these programs are actually for managing poverty, not alleviating it. The person quoted above is right, the power elite don't want to alleviate poverty at all, and in fact our legislation itself reflects that. The fact that more people don't realize that is part of what makes this manipulation possible.
posted by clockzero at 6:48 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


The two items shouldn't be in the same bill. Separate them. In fact lets stop this sort of bundling in its entirety. At least with the farm bill there is some limited connection with food stamps - not enough to make them one bill. Do away with the whole rider business

Take the Farm Bill and if we must retain it, change it so it helps American farmer, not big corporations and ultra wealthy

Take the money saved by not giving welfare to those who don't need it and use it to cut down on the fraud in Food Stamps and welfare in general.

In the end you'll have a farm bill helping out those in need as well as a food stamp program helping those in need.
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:49 AM on August 21, 2013


This:
What I feel is fury and betrayal. I know, first hand, real live personal, how utterly and vastly important being able to eat can be. In the end, it seems to me that the fucking Republicans are saying that they wish I had died all those years ago, when I had run to the end of myself. It's hard not to take it personally.
A lot of her story resonates with my own experience. I'm curious about how many of us here have been on food stamps as adults.

In the winter and spring of 1994, my entire life came apart. I was 29 and pretty much everything that formed the stable core of my life, that I relied upon, dissolved. My parents had separated and were divorcing, my mother was moving even farther away than she already was, my sister was in her own weird place just after graduating high school where she was doing ecstasy and acid every night when she wasn't depressed and angry and calling me — oh, and my mother was calling me through her whole divorce, too, as finally after twenty-eight years she realized that my father was an abusive jerk and wanted to process that with me even though I spent my whole childhood trying to get her to acknowledge that the way he treated me was wrong and stop making excuses for him.

And my wife told me she no longer loved me and left me.

I had been in college and had been deliriously happy in school for the first time in my life; but, also, I was struggling because I was finally coming to terms with the fact that I had a very serious lifelong problem with severe depression. It took me being happy in my life — in my marriage (at that earlier time) and with school — but still finding myself not being able to get out of bed and being depressed to realize that this thing I had been struggling with all along wasn't necessarily situational, it wasn't my moral failing, it was something afflicting me. But, anyway, I struggled with this, I got some medical help and the school was amazingly helpful and cooperative given that they are very, very strict about attendance, but it was really hard.

I was unemployed.

I went to a very bad place. I started at a low place and then worked my way down from there.

I don't actually remember where in the timeline the food stamps were. There were at least two serious near-attempts at suicide. The most serious one was good, in a roundabout way, because I stood on a chair with a belt around my neck tied to a ceiling fixture and realized that I totally and completely, unambiguously, really was an atheist and had no expectation that death would be anything other than the utter extinction of me. I realized that I couldn't actually make the choice to not-exist. The bad part of that was that while that realization did then, and through the following twenty years, act as something keeping me from truly going through with suicide, I also sort of felt that, well, I can't die but I don't know how to get better so maybe I'm just stuck at this awful place?

I didn't have my own transportation because my wife and I had one vehicle and she took it. I couldn't pay the rent or the utilities. The utilities all were turned off, at different times. It's weird living in a home (apartment) without electricity or heating or even water. I did that for at least a month. I used a restroom at a fast-food place down the street and for water I used an outdoor faucet. When I wasn't sleeping, I read during the day but pretty much had no choice but to sleep when it was dark. (I have to admit that the only good memory I have of this time was the quiet solitude of sitting by the window and reading a book, with my life reduced to absolutely nothing but that moment.)

Eventually I was evicted — I had nowhere to go, so I actually went through the whole process, appeared in court and everything. I recall the landlord telling me that if I made him take me to court, he'd make sure that I was never able to rent another apartment in the city again, ever. But, you know, at that point it was stay in the dark apartment or the street. I needed every day I could get.

There was almost no contact between my wife and me; she was the kind of person who when she left, she left and didn't look back. There was sporadic and absolutely minimal contact out of various necessity. And so at one point, I don't remember what this was about, she decided I really was about to attempt suicide, so she called the police.

Let me tell you, that's a load of fun. Did you know they actually handcuff you to take you to the hospital? I think the best part, though, was when the officer turned off the car's ignition in the parking lot outside the hospital and looked in the rearview mirror and asked me, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord?" I can't even tell you how I responded. I think I found it darkly humorous then, just as I do now. By the way, they didn't have a bed for me. They kept me in the ER until they could find someone to come get me. They called my wife, she refused. That was ... upsetting. I don't blame her, I didn't blame her at the time. But it hurt. I finally gave them the name of a friend of mine and he came and took me out of the hospital. I felt terrible about it.

But, anyway, somewhere in there I ran out of food and, like Lydy Nickerson, went a few days without eating and somehow, I honestly have no memory how this came about, I went down to apply for food stamps.

It was very difficult to do. I was embarrassed. Like Nickerson, I'd been young and on my own at the age of eighteen and beyond and in those early days I had times when I didn't have money for rent or food. It never, ever occurred to me to get any kind of government help. Mostly, in those days, in the end I'd go to my parents or friends.

Even if, at the age of 29, I had been willing to go to my parents for help, their lives were in huge turmoil and I wouldn't have gotten much help, if any. And other family was only an hour away, but I didn't ask them for anything, either. A really weird thing that happened during that time, that I've never understood and no one has ever explained to me, is that all my family, from my parents (well, my mom, really) to my sister, to two of my aunts with whom I was very close to my maternal grandmother with whom I was also very close — none of those people even came to visit me during that five month period when people knew, or at least I assumed they knew (because my mother and my sister knew) what was going on with me and what my situation was. And that was out-of-character, before and after, really, most of these people have been helpful, emotionally or materially, when I've needed help. That was the worst time of my entire life, and there was absolutely no one there. It marked a break for me with my sister, with whom I'd previously been very close. But from her eighteen-year-old perspective, her parents had gone crazy and abandoned her, and when she learned I was suicidal, she felt betrayed by me, too. But it was a general break for me, a break from my childhood in the sense that from that time on, I've never again expected family to be there for me, even when I'm hungry in a dark apartment with a noose around my neck. I'm not angry about it, I understand with some of them that they had shit going on, too. But something that I had taken for granted up to that point was gone. Since that time, and even though I have a lot of people who love me (and I love them), for me I know that ultimately I either chose to live or not, I choose to help myself, or not.

Anyway, somehow, some way, I went down to the food stamps place. I apologized profusely, feeling like a) I didn't deserve the help, and b) I wasn't the "kind of person" who asked for this kind of help.

And I will always remember the very kind woman who said to me, look, your life changed very rapidly and you went from being able to provide for yourself to going hungry — this is what this program was designed to do. It's made for feeding people like you. It won't go on forever, you'll get back on your feet. But you need to eat, and this is how you'll be able to eat. It's okay.

It's hard to explain how frightening it is to have no food, be hungry, and not know how you'll find a meal. And it's also hard to explain what a huge relief it is, how it feels like an enormous burden that you didn't quite recognize was there — you knew it was there, but you didn't know just how heavy it was — when it's lifted.

Those of us who are progressives talk about food and shelter, how those really should be understood as basic rights, and I am not going to diminish how fundamental having a roof over your head really is. But there's something about being hungry, and not knowing how you're going to feed yourself, that is even more fundamental, more frightening. Because of this, all paths forward start from here. From having food.

People who've never been at this level of need don't seem to understand how being really poor, and especially being hungry and homeless, is much more than the sum of its parts. These things all work together, they reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. When conservatives talk about getting a job as a means to eating and having housing, they don't understand that they've got this exactly backwards.

Somehow in all that, having found a way to eat, and being evicted I managed to find a friend-of-a-friend who was going out of town for the summer and was willing to let me housesit for him while he was gone, I started making my way back up. I restarted my life. At the end of the summer I moved, I made new friends, finalized my divorce, and had developed a very different way of looking at how I was living my life and what I expected. Honestly, I overcompensated. I decided that the key was to have no expectations at all, to in some sense not really have any hopes. That sounds horrid, but for me, for a number of years, it meant a kind of placidity. I moved to Austin and found my way into the tech industry during the dotcom boom. Everything in my life got steadily better, and I sort of came to believe that it was because I didn't expect it to. I'd like to think I got over that way of thinking, but I'm not sure I did. Nevertheless, the second half of the nineties ended up being, all in all, the best overall period of my life.

For me, having had this experience, it seemed that the food stamp program was not only the right thing to do, it also just made sense. People need to eat to do anything else, how can anyone, liberal or conservative, think that the paltry amount spent on the food stamp program was something that wasn't worth doing? It really wasn't until sometime in the last ten years that I heard any conservative grumbling about the program. And it shocked me. It still shocks me. It's not that expensive, in the context of the federal budget. It feeds people. How can that be controversial?

It was the key to my being able to work my way up from the very worst, most desperate, low point of my life. It started with a nice woman at the food stamp office explaining to me that it was perfectly reasonable for me to want to eat and for them to see to it that I ate. As with Lydy Nickerson, that program arguably saved my life.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:08 AM on August 21, 2013 [139 favorites]


Every voting season is a chance to get rid of them.

That's a load of rich creamery butter.
posted by IvoShandor at 7:10 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Completely aside from the moral issue at hand:

As a programmer, reading about the way legislation is structured makes my skin crawl.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:10 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bloomberg: Among the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican Mitt Romney won 213 of them in last year’s presidential election, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data compiled by Bloomberg. Kentucky’s Owsley County, which backed Romney with 81 percent of its vote, has the largest proportion of food stamp recipients among those that he carried.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:29 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


George Carlin said this back in '92. Certainly, others had made the basic point before he did, but I feel he--as he almost always did--said it best:
[T]hat's all you ever hear about in this country. It's our differences. That's all the media and the politicians are ever talking about--the things that separate us, things that make us different from one another. That's the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the fucking money! Fairly simple thing; happens to work. You know? Anything different--that's what they're gonna talk about--race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank! You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class. Keep 'em showing up at those jobs.
posted by tzikeh at 7:32 AM on August 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


As a programmer, reading about the way legislation is structured makes my skin crawl.


I double-majored in Comp Sci and Poli Sci, and I've always suspected that if I went to grad school for the latter, I'd want to do serious research on the potential for applying software development methodology to law, on the basis that law is basically code that executes on humans, and "loopholes" in laws are fundamentally the same thing as software bugs.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:38 AM on August 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


That's a load of rich creamery butter.

When life gives you a load of rich creamery butter, do something productive with it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:42 AM on August 21, 2013


Instead, they tend to insist that confiscating money from people via taxation eliminates the very act of charity and compassion that is so essential to cultivate.
Which is of course bullshit. Taxation isn't "confiscation" in a democracy. Directly or indirectly we voted to give that money to the government so it can use it to do what we tell it to do. The government is "us" and when we make the government do good we are doing good.

What you really get when you do it through private charity is the ability to defect, and break the system through a Prisoner's dilemma, which is what conservatives really want.

Taxation not being optional eliminates the prisoner's dilemma and makes the system work. Which is what they don't want.

Not saying you're not accurately describing their mindset, verb, just saying it's bullshit.
posted by edheil at 7:47 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I double-majored in Comp Sci and Poli Sci, and I've always suspected that if I went to grad school for the latter, I'd want to do serious research on the potential for applying software development methodology to law, on the basis that law is basically code that executes on humans, and "loopholes" in laws are fundamentally the same thing as software bugs.

In a way, that's how I first got interested in programming--I used to edit municipal legal code and I was just dumbstruck by how poorly structured and illogical it all was. I actually pitched the idea to my boss when I was leaving of developing software that would make it easier for clients to draft laws minimally using consistent organizational schemes (most of my job was trying to make sense of the whole mess and organize it into their comprehensive code of ordinances). But yeah, it seems like there must be someway to use technology to tighten up the rigor of the lawmaking process itself.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:09 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


...law is basically code that executes on humans, and "loopholes" in laws are fundamentally the same thing as software bugs.

You're assuming these loopholes are unintended mistakes. Fact is, many, many such loopholes (and vagueness, for that matter) are intentionally engineered into the laws. I think you can imagine exactly why.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:16 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are always moral assumptions behind these views:

* "You can't take my money and give it to someone else without my consent."
* "No one deserves to eat without working."
* "The welfare state keeps people in poverty."
* "Private charity is superior to public charity."
* "Government welfare systems are inefficent and corrupt."

What is needed is not demonization or contempt or a feeling of superiority over the anti-food-stampers, tempting and easy though these options are. Demonizing plays into the hands of those who would divide the country. What's needed is a powerful empathy that gets into opponents' heads and hearts, and constructs a compelling new rhetoric that renders the above assumptions insignificant and presents a new concept of duty with which they can sympathize.
posted by shivohum at 8:21 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Taxation isn't "confiscation" in a democracy.

Taxation isn't "confiscation" in any form of society. Humans live in groups, like our other primate cousins. It's how we survive; it's in our benefit to do so. If we try to go every ape for himself, or even every ape for himself and his own blood offspring, it's goodbye soft, squishy apes and hello cruel elements, fangy predators, and those bastard chimpanzees in the ill-fitting overalls. We can't do it without sharing some of our resources. When the group gets big enough, we have to have a systematic way of doing it or we'll waste all of our precious time fiddlefarting around on it. As a wise man once said, "We're trying to have a civilization here."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:25 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


law is basically code that executes on humans, and "loopholes" in laws are fundamentally the same thing as software bugs.

They're features. They intentionally keep laws disorganized and vague, so as to leave room for arguing, interpretation, and re-interpretation when the political winds shift. Attempting to add rigor, logic, and clarity would run counter to the actual interests of the legislators.
Source: personal experience with politicians and lawyers at the state government level.

On preview, what Thorzdad said.
posted by mrgoat at 8:29 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


@ Fyodor, first of all, very courageous sharing your story. Thanks. Second, as a divorced mother of two, who escaped a situation of domestic abuse, I would not be here if there'd been no food stamp program. My kids would not be here either. Both have turned out well, as in being productive members of society.
In addition to having survived domestic abuse, I have disabilities which were real barriers to work.
Oh I had a couple decent jobs along the way, but no job lasted beyond 4 years. Only a couple paid decently and it was a slog.
I have to say that being helped also helped my wider family, none of whom had the resources to help me as much as the kids and I needed.
I too have dealt with depression.
Letting go of expectation and goals was very wise of you.
Goals and expectations leave no room for anything but disappointment when they don't come to pass.
I personally do believe in God, so I see goals and expectations as almost trying to say what we want instead of being open to God's will.
Either way, they don't help if you are depressed because healing is in the good stuff that just happens and comes our way.
Eating is fundamental, there historically have been hunter-gatherer tribes who owned next to nothing, wore next to nothing and did not have houses or even tents.
Guess what? They still had to find food, by hunting for it or gathering it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


You're assuming these loopholes are unintended mistakes. Fact is, many, many such loopholes (and vagueness, for that matter) are intentionally engineered into the laws. I think you can imagine exactly why.

Oh, absolutely. I'm not saying such a thing would always be politically viable, just that I find it personally fascinating. After all, a purposeful loophole and an illegal back-door into code are, again, roughly analogous...
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:30 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


'm starting to wonder if this is a response to the escalating efforts to bring farmers' markets into the food stamp programs.

Here in MA, we decided that food stamps should function as food stamps, not shit stamps. So many farmer's markets have a booth where they run up your EMT card in exchange for a voucher you can use at the other booths. Among other results, it's getting farmer's markets to relocate closer to where more food stamp clients live.

So, now that food stamps are subsidizzing all agriculture, not just agribusiness, the GOP is pouncing on them. Hmm....
posted by ocschwar at 8:39 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Among the 254 counties where food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011, Republican Mitt Romney won 213 of them in last year’s presidential election

Perhaps it would be best if food stamps were eliminated. Perhaps the 80-odd percent of food stamp recipients who would elect the GOP into power need to learn by experience why they should be electing social progressives instead. Perhaps the GOP needs to face an astonishingly angry, desperate underclass to learn why the GOP needs to care for all citizens.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:40 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


After all, a purposeful loophole and an illegal back-door into code are, again, roughly analogous...

I get what you're saying. My experience with developers, though, showed me that, if you get two developers in a room to design anything, you end up with four or five continuing arguments over which methods work best, and the project gets set back a week. Writing code is, in fact, much like writing law, with similar results. See: The history of Internet Explorer.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:43 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're assuming these loopholes are unintended mistakes. Fact is, many, many such loopholes (and vagueness, for that matter) are intentionally engineered into the laws.

They are cheat codes.
posted by srboisvert at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


What's needed is a powerful empathy that gets into opponents' heads and hearts, and constructs a compelling new rhetoric that renders the above assumptions insignificant and presents a new concept of duty with which they can sympathize.

Here's a recent piece from the National Review on how terrible it is to offer free school breakfasts for poor kids. What techniques would you suggest to engage the empathy of people who believe:

Third, even where decent parents are involved, free breakfasts at school weaken the parent-child bond.

[...]

And fourth, the free breakfast profoundly weakens young people’s character. When you grow up learning to depend on the state, you will almost inevitably — even understandably — assume that the state will take care of you. And you will grow up also assuming — as do Europeans, who give far less to charity than Americans for this very reason — that the state will take care of your fellow citizens, including your own children.


This is not from the Onion, mind. This is from people who believe that it is better for children to go hungry than to allow people to think that maybe part of a government's job is to not let children go hungry. They want to make a political point, with hungry children at the tip of the spear.
posted by rtha at 8:50 AM on August 21, 2013 [29 favorites]


I get what you're saying. My experience with developers, though, showed me that, if you get two developers in a room to design anything, you end up with four or five continuing arguments over which methods work best, and the project gets set back a week. Writing code is, in fact, much like writing law, with similar results. See: The history of Internet Explorer.


And that's why I'm talking about using formal software development methodologies for this and not "throw people together and let them argue." When you say "Writing code is much like writing law, I'm saying yes, exactly, and we've learned a lot about how to write better code - lessons that could be applied to writing law. Obviously lots of code is badly designed and badly written; this is not the same thing as "Code is always and unavoidably badly designed and badly written."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Fyodor, first of all, very courageous sharing your story. Thanks."

And thank you, too, for saying so and for sharing a bit of your story. I bet there's a whole bunch of people like us and Lydy, the woman who wrote the LJ post, who can recount an experience of being at wit's end, deep desperation, and food stamps being almost miraculously helpful in creating a foothold and the difference between, well, the worst of the worst and finding a way forward.

But also, that really shouldn't be the standard by which the program is judged. Obviously people at that level of desperation ought to be fed. The homeless ought to be fed. But there's a huge category of being poor enough that there's some food to eat, but not quite enough, and every month is a constant agonized choice between buying food or paying some bill or rent or whatever. In a way, it's the ongoing chronic shortage for the absolute necessities of shelter and food and clothing and transportation and people will go hungry, and even their kids will go hungry, to pay something that they think is more essential and less elastic, like the rent on time or bus fare or school supplies, that is the worst.

You can always convince yourself that going hungry for a day or so is bearable. Contrariwise, you can buy food and not be able to make some other financial commitment and then feel guilty that maybe you should have gone hungry for a few days. This can go on a very, very long time, just almost-but-not-quite making ends meet. And that's a hole people find themselves in, a financial hole (because some things you don't pay in favor of buying food are things that you can pay late, but with fees), and an emotional hole. It's terribly exhausting living like this.

And so food stamps for this much larger class of people — not the people with absolute nothing, no income and no assets and no food, but people who are just very poor and have to constantly choose between food and rent and the gas bill — is terribly important because there's a whole lot of people living like this. And for them, too, food stamps can mean the difference between being stuck there and finding their way out of that hole.

Anyway, your kind words mean a lot to me because although I'm a pretty open person and I've talked about parts of this here and elsewhere before, I don't think I've ever presented that time of my life, which really was the very lowest I've ever been, all in one place with that much detail. It is a little scary, there's things implicit in that which I still don't really know what to do with, things that arguably aren't resolved. It's twenty years, almost, but there are a few wounds that haven't totally healed.

"Letting go of expectation and goals was very wise of you.
Goals and expectations leave no room for anything but disappointment when they don't come to pass."


I think I abandoned goals and expectations too completely, and for too long, than was healthy. But it was definitely the right thing for me to do for a good while, because my life up to that point had been weighed down by a voice in my head telling me that I should have already done many things and that I was a failure or not having done them. And falling down to such an extreme low, it rid me of a kind of pride that was connected to all that. It was a victory just to survive that period, and I knew it. Every month that wasn't as bad as that time was a good month. I said to myself, okay, I'll just do what I can to get through this day and be happy with that.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:58 AM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


The code vs. law thing is a bad comparison.

Writing law is not like writing code at all, it’s like writing requirements for code: determining what the code should do, what features are needed, whose requests get done first, whose get ignored, etc. Even if you’re a clear-eyed super logical engineer, you know how much compromise and horse-trading goes into the requirements gathering process. There’s no possibility for Agile or Lean in this world, either. You have to do it, release it, and then live with the consequences until the next requirements update.

Writing code is more like building a bureaucracy to implement policy.
posted by migurski at 9:00 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is not from the Onion, mind. This is from people who believe that it is better for children to go hungry than to allow people to think that maybe part of a government's job is to not let children go hungry. They want to make a political point, with hungry children at the tip of the spear.

You even skipped the part where, instead of feeding kids whose parents aren't giving them breakfast, we should have child protective services go visit those homes. Because clearly that won't involve governmental authority replacing parental authority or strengthening the power of the state, obviously.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:05 AM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


What techniques would you suggest to engage the empathy of people who believe: "Third, even where decent parents are involved, free breakfasts at school weaken the parent-child bond."

I'm not sure it's possible to engage the empathy of National Review writers, who, after all, are being paid to make lack of empathy seem the only sane, nay, the only moral, option. Anyone who takes that gig has put something else ahead of empathy long ago.

Encouraging empathy directly is slippery, anyway; people only have limited amounts and many of us dole it out on extremely suspect grounds usually having to do with our perception of how good or deserving or like us the person seems to be.

I used to be conservative. When I heard things like "but kids are going hungry!" as an argument for, say, food stamps or free lunches, here is what happened mentally:

1. A Democrat/liberal is telling me this. They are probably exaggerating, maybe even lying. I don't know anyone who needs food stamps or free lunches. When I was a kid, we never needed them.

2. Food is cheap. I mean, how much can a PB&J really cost? Those people are just spending their money on cigarettes or cellphones and letting us pick up the slack. They probably shouldn't have had kids. It makes me angry that I'm having to take care of kids they shouldn't have had. I barely have enough money as it is!

3. If we stopped picking up the slack, they would feed their kids, I bet. Or let them be adopted by better families. If we keep supporting them, they'll keep having kids they can't feed! There's not enough money to feed all those kids. It's sad, really. But my church has a food bank, and I tithe, so we're doing as much as we can. I can't afford to feed the entire world, my own family would starve.

Now it's not hard to see the logic loopholes here, but of course that National Review piece is designed to smooth all those over. It really will be ok! Kids won't really starve! Those irresponsible people will learn a lesson! It's the only way!

The only way out of that mindset is to engage with those assumptions and dissect them. It's tedious, difficult work, and the people you are trying to convince mostly don't want to hear that a) they are wrong and b) people are suffering and they need to care and do something about it, on top of all the rest of their responsibilities.
posted by emjaybee at 9:05 AM on August 21, 2013 [25 favorites]


This is from people who believe that it is better for children to go hungry than to allow people to think that maybe part of a government's job is to not let children go hungry. They want to make a political point, with hungry children at the tip of the spear.

If a strengthening of character is what's called for, the ideal of Sparta, patriotism, the military virtues, strength, courage, self-sacrifice, glory... all of these are traditional conservative ideals that paint a positive picture of the state, and that show how character is developed in and through it, rather than apart from it.

Of course, these are often antithetical to liberal ideas -- that's a different issue. The point that there exist narratives & perspectives that can be invoked to flip people's view of the situation.
posted by shivohum at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2013


Perhaps it would be best if food stamps were eliminated. Perhaps the 80-odd percent of food stamp recipients who would elect the GOP into power need to learn by experience why they should be electing social progressives instead. Perhaps the GOP needs to face an astonishingly angry, desperate underclass to learn why the GOP needs to care for all citizens.

Tempting as this may sound, that just means we stoop to the level of the worst they have to offer.

When they claim voting laws or rulings are "just" because 80-year-old black women who were beaten in the streets for the right to vote don't have the bootstraps to walk 10 miles and cough up $100 for a voter ID created to invent practically non-existent fraud, should we hope that shouldn't have the right to vote? No.

When they claim that immigrants don't deserve to be here because they didn't come from the right countries or have the resources to go through the massive bureaucracies they created for what are basically racist and xenophobic reasons, should we tell white people to go home? No.

When they claim that being a woman is a pre-existing condition, that birth control is for sluts, that sluts deserve rape, and that a woman's body belongs to a state that doesn't respect it, should we call for them to be sterilized? No.

When they claim that LGBT people are "others" who should be shunned and treated differently because of God, or the market, or just plain moral panic, should we wish that they weren't able to be with the ones they love? No.

What defines these people is how far they are willing to go to deny others their dignity, their rights, and ultimately their humanity. What should define us is how far we are willing to go to allow it.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:06 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


"You even skipped the part where, instead of feeding kids whose parents aren't giving them breakfast, we should have child protective services go visit those homes. Because clearly that won't involve governmental authority replacing parental authority or strengthening the power of the state, obviously."

I'm not actually willing to go to NR and read anything there, but I believe you about that part because it's really of a piece. When that sort of conservative talks about self-reliance and how the nanny-state undermines it, or just about the value of individual liberty, including the right to make bad decisions for oneself, they really are thinking about themselves and the middle-class. They may be talking about the poor, but it's an argument of convenience.

Because when you come right down to it, conservatives are just as paternal as they accuse liberals of being with regard to the poor. They're completely willing to take children away from parents, or put people in jail for doing things that only hurt themselves, if these conservatives believe that the poor are doing it wrong because, I mean, they're the dirty, filthy, ignorant poor, am I right? You can't really expect them to make the right choices.

It's exactly the argument that they make about liberals. It's the nanny-state when middle-class or upper-class conservatives are forced to wear a seatbelt or not smoke in the workplace. But when it's how the poor spend their money, or treat their children, the assumption is that they're doing it wrong and naturally the state should correct them. And that correction is almost always punitive, as it happens.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:21 AM on August 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


I have long thought that Food Stamps are an agricultural subsidy so I don't understand why Republicans are trying to cut them. If you look for aggregate data on what foods are purchased with Food Stamps, it is not available even though the Department of Agriculture has the data; it just refuses to release it. That is certainly not to save the poor from the embarrassment of people knowing how much honey buns, Twinkies, and Jungle Juice they buy; it's because the corn lobby is afraid that if the public finds out that that's where tax money is going, Food Stamp spending will be limited to certain healthy products and the corn industry will take a huge hit.

So if this is correct, it would seem the Republicans are undermining their own corporate agriculture backers by severing Food Stamps from the agriculture bill.
posted by Unified Theory at 9:24 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a programmer, reading about the way legislation is structured makes my skin crawl.

Legislation isn't code, even if it's called that. It's a bundle of compromises.

You could write legislation that's all purty and organized like you think code should be. In real life, lots of state code probably looks pretty close to that because it's (a) boring shit and (b) stuff that was settled long ago.

I mean, we've done the easy stuff. Nobody stands up in a legislature to say "Hey, I've just heard about this new idea called theft... it seems bad and we should ban that," or "I've got this wacky idea that we should ban murder."*

Instead, most modern legislation is going to be complex, hard to easily describe or organize, and not command an immediate, natural majority. Which means bits and pieces get added and subtracted to attract support. This is how you get laws that are silly on their face, like you can sell booze but not on Sunday.

*Okay, it happens occasionally. California had to ban sex with corpses in *looks* 2004 after a few embarrassing incidents including pedophilic necrophilia because they'd forgotten to make it illegal.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:27 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thank you for your story, Ivan. Honestly.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:28 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it would be best if food stamps were eliminated. Perhaps the 80-odd percent of food stamp recipients who would elect the GOP into power need to learn by experience why they should be electing social progressives instead.

I am pretty sure that psychological research suggests that they would just double down on their beliefs.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:32 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just finished berating (for lack of a better term) my cousin for posting about how people on benefits need to be drug tested and be clean of booze and drugs to get benefits so that we can be sure that they are not wasting our tax dollars.

It's a mind set that I can't fathom in her; she herself was on benefits for a very long time and was constantly posting about how she was going to get hammered on this night or that (posting pictures from parties and so on). I had to point this out to her; so high was her horse that she really pointed out that while she was signing on some people were showing up drunk or (clutch those pearls) high on drugs.

Note that she herself was in line for those same benefits. I closed my points with "it seems that some people feel that the only persons who can benefit from the social safety net are themselves and everyone else can go get fucked"

or "fuck you, I got mine" which seems to be the way of the world. I expect we'll get a "new new deal" and better unions again before long; but it's going to be a long drought when the government is run by people who hate government.
posted by NiteMayr at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My god rtha, for a second I thought you were using that article as evidence that free breakfast is bad.

I left a comment on that page.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:37 AM on August 21, 2013


When I worked on the Hill, I drafted legislation as part of my job. (None of it ever became law.) What I learned during that process is that it's s lot harder to get an idea down cleanly on paper than it sounds, particularly if you're mistrustful of your fellow citizens and spend a lot of time trying to predict how your proposed system could be gamed. It's tempting to think of laws as analagous to code, but it doesn't really work in practice, in my experience.
posted by wintermind at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It may be more charitable to say that rather than crypto-tsarism [Libertarianism is] a reaction to the sheer terror of living through a revolution.

After hearing all sorts of libertarian arguments (both small and big 'l'), one of the very last things I'm inclined to do is give them any kind of benefit of the doubt. Though I'm sympathetic to those coming from an oppressive regime, I'll still judge them harshly if they then turn around and try and impose further oppressions on others. Even if, as libertarians often seem fond of doing, they claim it's in theory only, because their theory is diametrically opposed to empathy.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:49 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's tempting to think of laws as analagous to code, but it doesn't really work in practice, in my experience.

It sounds more like drafting RPG rules when your gaming group consists entirely of conniving rules lawyers.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


When my mother was a kid, instead of what we now think of as food stamps, they had some kind of surplus food program where the government bought the commodities necessary to stabilize market prices directly from the growers, packaged them, and distributed them directly to qualified families. She has memories of baking industrial-sized batches of cookies on the weekends from big cardboard boxes of rolled oats, powdered eggs, flour, and raisins, directed by her father flashing back to his Army KP days. They were their schoolday breakfasts, snacks, and lunch desserts for months on end.

So, combining the issues of stabilizing the market and reducing hunger were seen as two birds that could be killed with one stone even in what many conservatives feel was some kind of golden age.

Mind you, back then they could blame both things on being ready to fight the Commies.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 AM on August 21, 2013


"I just finished berating (for lack of a better term) my cousin for posting about how people on benefits need to be drug tested and be clean of booze and drugs to get benefits so that we can be sure that they are not wasting our tax dollars."

I'm sure some scientists can clarify/correct/expand on this, but I think that research on both humans and other primates show a greater sensitivity to perceived unfairness than to empathy or even that it trumps some degree of self-interest. We really, really don't like to see other people get things they don't "deserve" and we will weight that concern over a great many other things.

This heightened sensitivity to perceived unfairness means that we tend to identify it where it often doesn't actually exist.

I'm not trying to make one of those pernicious false equivalencies, but it's worth considering that a lot of us on the left would be perfectly willing to risk erring on the side of injustice against some in order to punish certain classes for their unfair advantages and such. I don't know what the proportion of executives at big banks are actually guilty of things for which they should be punished, but I'm pretty sure that most of us would be perfectly willing to just punish all of them with at least losing their jobs in order to get at the ones who really are guilty. And do we really care that much about exactly differentiating between the guilty and the innocent? Aren't we really sort of convinced that they're all guilty of something?

Conservatives think this about the poor. Look at the chain of thought that emjaybee describes above that she would have had about this topic when she was a conservative.

When we witness this sort of thinking in people with whom we don't share some basic assumptions, we think, wow, how weirdly and frighteningly vindictive and judgmental. But we have assumptions about certain people and classes of people where we have this sort of thinking and we don't think it's vindictive, we agree that it's judgmental, but we see it as righteous judgment.

Again, I'm not saying it's equivalent because all such arguments aren't equal. Some have true assumptions, some have false assumptions, and some have valid reasoning and some have invalid reasoning. Of course I tend to think that leftist arguments are more trustworthy than rightist arguments. Nevertheless, it's worth considering the virtue in ourselves, too, of stepping back and taking a long look at this preference for punishing unfairness. There's surely a place for punitive responses, but maybe we ought to try to err on the side of not being so vindictive and obsessed with justice being delivered onto the undeserving (or moving heaven and hell to avoid any one person from getting more than they deserve) and erring on the side of being generous, instead. Because I find it to be a pretty ugly sentiment when I see it in conservatives, and so I suspect that it's likely to be ugly in me ... even when it's valid and true. There's something not quite right about the Javerts of the world. And there's a bit of Javert in all of us.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:00 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


Legislation isn't code, even if it's called that. It's a bundle of compromises.

And yet, one of the dominant legal philosophies held in America today holds that law can in fact be rigorously applied to produce necessarily correct outcomes, and that demonstrations of the law's rigorous application alone are sufficient to justify any particular legal outcome.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:22 AM on August 21, 2013


So if this is correct, it would seem the Republicans are undermining their own corporate agriculture backers by severing Food Stamps from the agriculture bill.

It's the tea party influence. Traditional GOPers would agree with you on that point. The new TP-GOP, though, is on a jihad against any and all spending (beyond defense...that's a constitutional mandate, afterall) and don't really care who or what gets gutted. It's quite literally "starve the beast" put in action.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My god rtha, for a second I thought you were using that article as evidence that free breakfast is bad.

That would be alt-rtha in BizarroMeFiverse.
posted by rtha at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's tempting to think of laws as analagous to code, but it doesn't really work in practice, in my experience.

That's at least partly because, even as far as they go to attempt it, law making processes lack rigor. There aren't even standard ways to test laws for loopholes or self-contradictions. We could at least benefit from more rigorous systems for drafting, reviewing and analyzing law.

There's no standardization, really, at all currently, apart from certain bizarre symbolic/traditional conventions, like "Wheras" clauses and the like. Well, at least, definitely at the level of municipal law. Not sure about Federal law.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2013


People think social science is soft. This is not so.

The Iron Law of Social Science is that hungry people riot.
posted by effugas at 10:47 AM on August 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


People think social science is soft. This is not so.

The Iron Law of Social Science is that hungry people riot.
So we should make them hungrier so they're too faint to riot.

/bizzarotilde
posted by tilde at 10:55 AM on August 21, 2013


Lydy has posted a follow-up: Talking to Republicans.
posted by jiawen at 11:17 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, put me down in the 'now-doing-ok-but-would-be-dead-if-not-for-SNAP' column. When I was making $400 a month and living in an apartment that cost $450 that $140 dollars was the only reason I was able to survive.

Last year I paid a few thousand in taxes. I think, all told, the state spent < $1000 dollars keeping me alive when I was extraordinarily desperate. I'm not saying that we should expect to recoup every dollar spent on feeding people who have slipped through the cracks, but in my case at least, it carried a pretty great ROI.

SNAP is a drop in the bucket of the federal budget, and as far as riot insurance goes it's remarkably cheap. The people in charge trying to starve the program out of existence are gladly pumping as much cash as possible to arms manufacturers while begrudging the destitute a mouthful of bread. You can call them whatever you want; I'm completely okay with calling them monsters.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


jiawen: Lydy has posted a follow-up: Talking to Republicans.
The problem is that people who tell the "Young Buck buying steak with foodstamps" story aren't making an "innocent mistake". They're repeating an ancient slander [Warning: Super Racist Poster from 1866] that was never true in the first place. They're bearing false witness. (Which I reference so often I linked that essay and its follow ups in my profile.)
posted by ob1quixote at 12:10 PM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Yeah but, I bought some "luxury" items and I think that people on food stamps should be able to buy such items. In my case, it was carefully calculated — I'd scrimp on some other things, getting the absolute cheapest or eat a little bit less just so that I could, every now and then, having something really good to eat.

That anyone thinks that it's reasonable to disallow this is an example of how people scrutinize the choices of the poor in a way that they'd never scrutinize the choices of the middle-class or upper-class. It'd be a given that if a middle-class person did this, it was a rational decision of balancing one kind of thing against another kind of thing, as I did above, and justifiable and not in need of censure.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:18 PM on August 21, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: Yeah but, I bought some "luxury" items and I think that people on food stamps should be able to buy such items.
Sorry to be unclear. Of course people should be able to buy whatever food they fancy. Limiting it to "basics" gets brought up by the usual suspects every now and then.
Since the current definition of food is a specific part of the Act, any change to this definition would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be administratively costly and burdensome.
I brought it up because that's the kind of story I always hear from my conservative and libertarian friends when they complain about SNAP. My point was that it isn't now and never was true, though they all claim to personally witness such scenes every time they go grocery shopping.

My position, as always, is unchanged lo these many years: This is the goddamned United States of America. What the fuck do you mean there isn't enough to make sure nobody goes hungry?
posted by ob1quixote at 12:54 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'd go a step farther, and say food stamps (and other safety net type-programs) should be expanded enough to cover a bit of luxury from time to time. C'mon, everybody at least deserves a nice meal, or a night out at the movies, or to go see a show, or whatever.

Though, the next question is going to be "How much luxury?" and I don't know how to answer that without, as Ivan Fyodorovich puts it, "scrutinizing the choices of the poor". But surely it's more than "none".

(Well, really I'm in favor of some form of a universal basic income, but fat chance of that in the US.)
posted by mrgoat at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Frankly, I'd put expanding the program to allow buying TP in front of going to the movies.

I am reminded of the "Hipsters on Food Stamps" post from a few years back. People can be very judgmental about the food choices of people on SNAP. I think they all need to enroll in another four-letter program for busybodies and crybabies: MYOB.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:14 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Perhaps it would be best if food stamps were eliminated. Perhaps the 80-odd percent of food stamp recipients who would elect the GOP into power need to learn by experience why they should be electing social progressives instead. Perhaps the GOP needs to face an astonishingly angry, desperate underclass to learn why the GOP needs to care for all citizens."

It's odd to rebuke you for not being cynical enough here, but what will happen is that the GOP will tell people that they're starving because now the government money only goes to negros, illegals and queers.
posted by klangklangston at 1:14 PM on August 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


ob1quixote: I think they all need to enroll in another four-letter program for busybodies and crybabies: MYOB.
"They", of course, meaning the judgmental people. Not people on SNAP.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:21 PM on August 21, 2013


What the fuck do you mean there isn't enough to make sure nobody goes hungry?

Oh, there's enough. But if a few kids starve in order to ensure that only morally upright, proper poors can access the benefits, well, that's a price we have to be willing to pay.

/bizarro-rtha
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I agree that we should try to reach conservatives, instead of merely condemning them.

For example, when they start talking about cutting food stamps, eliminating school lunches because it fosters dependence and so forth, feeding kids only if we feel personally charitable, we can get them to at least agree with abortion.

"Yes! You're right. Here's how we should do it. Remove the fetus and put it on the ground. Why should it be a leech? Let it pick itself by its bootstraps. Teach it personal responsibility. For those who want to carry to term, well, that's charity. But charity should come from your own free will. And if you are not feeling charitable, on the ground goes the fetus. It should always be a personal decision. Government should have no part in this decision."
posted by VikingSword at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have long thought that Food Stamps are an agricultural subsidy so I don't understand why Republicans are trying to cut them.

As I understand their reasoning, it's okay to take money and just shove it at big corporations or rich people. Funneling it through poor people in ways that would help said poor folk is government nanny statism. Or something like that.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:56 PM on August 21, 2013


Frankly, I'd put expanding the program to allow buying TP in front of going to the movies.

Not saying I wouldn't. Just wish we didn't have to choose.
posted by mrgoat at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Take the money saved by not giving welfare to those who don't need it and use it to cut down on the fraud in Food Stamps and welfare in general.

The problem is that determining who does and doesn't need or qualify for welfare costs money. The more we want to clamp down on errors of commission, the more expensive it gets per case. At some point, the cost of eliminating errors is greater than the money saved by eliminating them. It may be that we are already cost-effective, I don't know. But before making recommendations, the cost-benefit analysis needs to be done.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:16 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our family's economic situation has been getting more and more shaky over the past couple of years. This has coincided with a big increase in poor-hating rhetoric at the federal level, and full-on Dickensian craziness at the state level (I live in Wisconsin).

I've been kind of amazed by how personally I take all of it, by how political discourse suddenly has the power to really and truly upset me. I read things implying, say, that people on food stamps aren't good parents, and I feel like someone has slapped me in the face. When I watched Mitt Romney's 47% video I was about as angry as I've ever been in my life.

I've been feeling this whole time like this was sort of ridiculous on my part, like really, is it reasonable to feel a personal, visceral anger for some politician I've never even met? Is job stress just causing me to lose my mind?

Anyway. I read this blog post -- and some of the comments on this thread -- and I heard myself talking, I heard my own anger echoing back at me, and I appreciated it. It IS fucking personal and there's no other way to take it.

Thanks for posting, everybody.
posted by gerstle at 2:23 PM on August 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


Instead, they tend to insist that confiscating money from people via taxation eliminates the very act of charity and compassion that is so essential to cultivate.

I have a brother who, though raised as a luke-warm protestant, has become a fundamentalist Catholic and thinks that way. As I understand his mindset, government support of the needy takes away some of the opportunity to be charitable, which is necessary for him (and all of us) to be a good Christian. When I express my astonishment that his focus is on his ability to demonstrate his goodness rather than on the alleviation of actual human suffering, he is unable to separate the two in his mind. This conflation, deliberately promoted by right-wing theologians, is at the crux of their opposition to government programs to support the needy. My brother is very smart, though not particularly classroom savvy, so I don't think this is a matter of low brain power, but rather a deeply ingrained flaw in perception. I, myself, want to believe that this Jesus guy was more interested in starving and naked people being fed and clothed than in his followers demonstrating their more precisely developed moral sense. But I guess I could be wrong.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:38 PM on August 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is not from the Onion, mind. This is from people who believe that it is better for children to go hungry than to allow people to think that maybe part of a government's job is to not let children go hungry. They want to make a political point, with hungry children at the tip of the spear.

From such die-hard conservatives I get the distinct impression that they don't really conceive of other people whom they have not met as humans so much as characters in their morality tales. It took me a long time to realize this was true about my own father. He didn't really think of it in terms of a child starving to death being better than them growing up to believe that the government can and should support children in need, because characters in tales can't really starve to death.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:47 PM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perhaps someone with more historical knowledge can answer this better, but my sense is that very few social movements achieve their limited success via convincing the right of anything. The civil rights era achieved its success by convincing the center-left to join the far left in forcing rights down the throats of the South, who resented it at the time and still resent it. The same thing happened in the civil war, with women's rights, and even shifts in gay marriage opinion are largely happening in the center, not the right. And it's not at all clear from history that the best way to shift the left half of the center is to carefully cultivate empathy and a sympathetic tone for the far right. Calling a bunch of barely-covert racists anti-Christian won't win them over, but moral arguments like that might indeed bring clarity to the wavering center. And it certainly helps free up time away from unproductive activities like arguing with racists towards more productive activities, like energizing enough on the left half of society to get stuff done.
posted by chortly at 3:06 PM on August 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


anansi: "fullerine: "
You may or may not be a monster but the monsters also need to persuaded so you need to make a fiscal case.
Remind me again why we're persuading monsters?
"

Because the monsters have power.
"

And there's no such thing as Jaeger's in real life.
posted by Samizdata at 4:03 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Brandon Blatcher: "That's a load of rich creamery butter.

When life gives you a load of rich creamery butter, do something productive with it.
"

With no food, what's to do with butter?

Multiple recreations of that scene out of Last Tango in Paris?
posted by Samizdata at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2013


And there's no such thing as Jaeger's in real life.

You take that back!
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:57 PM on August 21, 2013


gerstle: "It IS fucking personal and there's no other way to take it."

I think that's the key point. This IS class warfare, but the poor people are losing. It's time we changed that around, if we even still can.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:16 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


When conservatives talk about getting a job as a means to eating and having housing, they don't understand that they've got this exactly backwards.

I want to repeat this because Ivan nailed it.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:06 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Celsius1414: "And there's no such thing as Jaeger's in real life.

You take that back!
"

If there were, I'd be shortlisted for pilot.

I am unemployed.

Do the math.
posted by Samizdata at 11:44 PM on August 21, 2013


Ivan Fyodorovich: “It's hard to explain how frightening it is to have no food, be hungry, and not know how you'll find a meal. And it's also hard to explain what a huge relief it is, how it feels like an enormous burden that you didn't quite recognize was there — you knew it was there, but you didn't know just how heavy it was — when it's lifted.”
I wanted to come back to Ivan's turn-of-phrase here specifically because it reminded me of a story of actually changing someones mind.

My business partner is a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian populist, with opinions about Food Stamps and Welfare to match. We've gone 15 rounds on the subject more than once, but neither of us could bring the other around to their way of thinking.

In another context, she told me a story about when she was in high school lifting weights with the biggest guy on the football team. The guy was trying to bench 350 pounds while my partner spotted him.

"I can't lift that much. I shouldn't be spotting you," she said.

"That's okay," replied the football player. "You don't have to lift the whole thing. If you can just lift 50 pounds, I can lift the rest."

I brought that story up with her one time when I described the pressure of modern life as THE WEIGHT. We can't really afford to provide everything to everyone, lift the entirety of THE WEIGHT for the whole of the United States in other words. We can — indeed we must — afford to give people a fighting chance to lift the rest of THE WEIGHT by giving them enough to eat and a decent place to lay their heads at night when they can't provide that for themselves.

She doesn't argue with me about it anymore. She still wants people to put in a bare minimum effort to contribute, but she recognizes that people actually do need help and in a modern, capitalist society. There's no frontier and no Homestead Act to provide people with a home and a way to feed themselves. We've in large part substituted jobs and rent for being able to be self-reliant. Very few will realisticly earn enough to be able to afford even the proverbial Five Acres and Independence.

From that perspective, setting aside Social Security, providing a mere 9% of the Federal budget (roughly 3.5% of GDP) to pay for the myriad ways the government helps to feed, clothe, and house the poor — our Brothers and Sisters as well as fellow citizens — seems like nowhere near enough.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:15 AM on August 22, 2013 [10 favorites]


Again, wouldn't our best case course of action be to obstruct the farm bill so that farm subsidies reduce to 1949 levels while food stamps survive relatively unscathed?
posted by jeffburdges at 3:43 AM on August 22, 2013


Sparks fly after Sen. Marble’s ‘chicken’ comment in poverty hearing
“When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race: sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up, diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup and you just can’t help it,” Marble said. “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better BBQ and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down south and you — I love it.”

Marble went on to mention how Mexicans eat vegetables in Mexico but stop eating healthily when they immigrate to the United States.

“These things aren’t good for you,” she continued. “There’s so many attributing factors as to why these graphs look the way they do.”

According to Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, “there was an audible gasp in the room.”

Moments later, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, responded to Marble on the record — and she didn’t pull any punches.

“The title for this committee is the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force; and one of the things I will not tolerate is racist and insensitive comments about African Americans, the color of their skin. You mentioned what we eat — I was highly offended by your remarks,” Fields said, addressing Marble directly.

“I will not engage in a dialogue where I’m in the company where you are using the stereotype references about African Americans and chicken and food and all kinds of things. I will just not tolerate that,” Fields continued.
[...]
Marble released a statement Wednesday night.

“My comments were not meant to be disparaging to any community,” she said. “I am saddened they were taken in that regard. I take my responsibility seriously and I hope our work on this committee will offer real solutions to the health and financial challenges of our vulnerable populations.”
For people that think like this, and even worse, aren't even apologetic about it, it's easy to see how minorities and the poor don't deserve any help.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:10 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whoops, here's the link.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:22 AM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm so sad you called me out as a racist.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:31 AM on August 22, 2013


The Weekly Standard Accidentally Makes the Case for Food Stamps
[R]ising enrollment, and the cost of supporting it, is what has conservatives so angry in the first place. But there’s a very good reason enrollment has swelled so much: More people need the assistance. SNAP usage has tracked the poverty level pretty closely, with only a small and temporary bump during the recession. As for paying the lazy to stay at home—which is what SNAP critics frequently say the program does—four out of five people on SNAP are either working or can’t work because they are children, senior citizens, or have disabilities. All programs attract some freeloaders and, surely, SNAP has its share. But the vast majority of people on SNAP need the help, particularly when decent-paying jobs are so hard to find.

Maybe that’s why conservatives keep trying to attack the program in other ways, like insisting the program is full of waste. But the numbers don’t back up that claim, either. As figures compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priority show, SNAP has low overhead, with 95 percent of the funding going directly to benefits. Incorrect payments are infrequent: In 2011, the total error rate was 5 percent, down from 10 percent in 1990. And a third of that was underpayment—i.e., people getting even less than they should.

Meanwhile, and more important, the program seems awfully good at doing what it is supposed to do: keep low-income people from going hungry or struggling even more financially. In 2011, according to the Center’s analysis, "SNAP kept about 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, including about 2.1 million children. SNAP also lifted 1.5 million children out of deep poverty (defined as 50 percent of the poverty line) in 2011, more than any other government assistance program."
posted by zombieflanders at 9:26 AM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Raising my hand as someone who's depended on food stamps.

I was a kid, but I never forgot that I was raised on food stamps and subsidized housing. Every time I hear people talk about how people abuse food stamps, it feels like a personal attack. Whenever I hear people say this, I let them know that I grew up on food stamps. I've had so many people explain to me how my situation was different, and while I listen to their logic twist around, all I can think is that they mean that I'm white, so their previous comments don't apply to me. Honestly, I'm sitting here by myself feeling my anger rise just thinking about it.

I mean to actually condone letting people go hungry ... I cannot understand it at all.
posted by agog at 11:22 PM on August 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


We were starving and we couldn’t even GET food stamps. Dad was gone like a puff of smoke. He had a good income, and the good old boy judge and the good old boy lawyers decided we couldn’t prove to their good old boy satisfaction that he wasn’t actually sending us any of it, and so no agency we applied to for assistance would take it out of their calculations when deciding whether or not we deserved any of their blessed magnanimity.

Mom got whatever work she could with no dependable transportation, no postsecondary education, no work experience outside the home after the babies were born, no relatives nearby, in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, with a health record that included a surgery that was written up in a medical journal when she was in her early 20’s. But it wasn’t much, and she stood to lose it every time she had to get a ride to the county seat and stand in line all day to ask for help, usually exhausted with worry about the one kid sick in bed at home (who didn’t qualify for any state medical assistance, for all the same reasons).

So, often enough to appreciate the difference, we ate on ACTUAL charity. Not what conservative politicians would have you believe is charity, like SNAP, but food that people gave us out of the goodness of their hearts because they liked us and didn’t want us to suffer. There were so many poor people in the area that churches and food banks would only give you food baskets if you already qualified for official programs like WIC or food stamps. It wasn’t uncommon for people to need a second freezer for the WIC milk and Thanksgiving turkeys (Not that I begrudge them, and the second freezer was usually a loaner).

So, folks would give us the things out of their food baskets that they didn’t want. We ate a LOT of expired matzohs, crystallized honey, dusty-tasting cornmeal, half-bags of dried beans, ramen in packaging with foreign alphabets (we used to try to guess Kanji vs. Hebrew vs. Cyrillic, and make up the text) and powdered milk that had to be put through the blender to break up the chunks. It was a mostly Catholic area, so a lot of Manischewitz went in the food baskets; It’s where I got my taste for canned macaroons and kosher salt. Grandma would bring food and a little money whenever she visited, but she was on a fixed income herself. We couldn’t even get free or reduced school lunches, but the lunch lady took pity on me and always offered me double portions of yesterday’s leftovers for the price of one lunch. She’d always say, “Now, I know you like X, can you help me get rid of it so I won’t have to throw it out?” Sweet, sweet lady. But when you’re a kid, sometimes you’re just too embarrassed and resentful to appreciate the nice things people do for you.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:35 AM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Instead, they tend to insist that confiscating money from people via taxation eliminates the very act of charity and compassion that is so essential to cultivate.

The sad irony is that the same people who love to fantasize about how they would heroically risk their lives and take up arms against the religious persecution of a tyrannical government turn around whine about how a little taxation is going to prevent them from practicing their religion.

And in that day, they will say, "But Lord! I couldn't feed you or clothe you! I couldn't visit you in prison or help you get medical care! The government took some of my money away!"
posted by straight at 3:26 PM on August 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: "We really, really don't like to see other people get things they don't "deserve" and we will weight that concern over a great many other things.

This heightened sensitivity to perceived unfairness means that we tend to identify it where it often doesn't actually exist.
"

I think a bumper sticker I saw on a pick-up truck yesterday underlines this point perfectly:

Work harder! Millions of welfare recipients are depending on you!!"
posted by double block and bleed at 5:00 PM on August 26, 2013


Work harder! Millions of welfare recipients are depending on you!!"

The movement begun by the Right to cast democratically implemented taxes as "theft" and to incite resentment against all taxation was instigated solely to reduce taxes on the wealthy, and has been hugely successful. The reduction of taxes on the remainder of society and the economic debilitation of local government like we've seen in extremis in Detroit is merely collateral damage. The main part of this resentment was incited by fanning this class and racial animus that the Right knew was seething under the skin of great numbers of lower middle-class whites. "Work harder! Millions of needy folks are depending upon your charity!!" just wouldn't have the same appeal to this voting block.

The brilliant part of it is that it was accomplished purely through innuendo and anecdote. The data clearly show that nearly all recipients of government assistance are in need of it and qualify for it, that there is very little fraud, and that most recipients are white. Nonetheless, the hordes of right wingers who crowd the comment sections of political websites are solidly convinced that they have lost their money not to greedy corporations, but to shiftless, lazy, unwhite mooching poor people.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:02 AM on August 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


To be clear: I saw the bumper sticker. I don't agree with it.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be clear: I saw the bumper sticker. I don't agree with it.

Well, it never occurred to me, anyway, that you might.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:42 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw it expressed recently that for a lot of people standard of living is 99% a scoreboard.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:53 AM on August 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rep Steven Fincher Gorges On Farm Subsidies While Telling Poor Families They Can't Eat Because The Government Can't Print Money
Surrounded by corn and soybean farms — including one owned by the local Republican congressman, Representative Stephen Fincher — Dyersburg, about 75 miles north of Memphis, provides an eye-opening view into Washington’s food stamp debate. Mr. Fincher, who was elected in 2010 on a Tea Party wave and collected nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies from the government from 1999 to 2012, recently voted for a farm bill that omitted food stamps.

“The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country,” Mr. Fincher, whose office did not respond to interview requests, said after his vote in May. In response to a Democrat who invoked the Bible during the food stamp debate in Congress, Mr. Fincher cited his own biblical phrase. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” he said.
The fact that Fincher personally received farm subsidies is interesting, but only semi-telling. I personally benefit from the home mortgage interest tax deduction and plan on continuing to do so as long as it stays law, but I still think it should be eliminated or drastically curtailed. The problem with Fincher isn't that he's scooped up farm subsidies, it's that the appropriations bill he's votes for continues to direct huge subsidies to rich farmers like himself even even while he preaches the evils of government spending to support the poor.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:52 AM on September 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


...not for Washington to steal from those...

There that teabagger meme goes again: that taxes are somehow theft. It goes hand-in-glove with the radical idea that governments are unnecessary. That someone who raked in $3.5mil from government said it shows just how dislocated the thinking of these folks has become.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:27 AM on September 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Forces of Contempt, Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, 5 September 2013
Now, with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act hard upon us, you can see Republicans large and small — and Marco Rubio (R-Shrinkwrap), who is neither — gearing up in fullblown dementia against it. There's going to be a lot of calculations in Beltway wiseguy algebra about all the maneuvering that's going to go on but, if you want to see the fundamental basis for the assault on health-care reform — if you want to trace the basic etiology of the prion disease — then you should look to a strange little story out of Portland, Oregon.
The note reads: "Dear Reader of This Note, There are twenty seven people in this neighborhood who vote and receive food stamps. The names of these people are being posted where they can be seen by taxpayers and the neighborhood can decide who is truly in need of food. (signed) Artemis of the wildland."
posted by ob1quixote at 3:49 AM on September 6, 2013


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