Dillie Nerios is a Florida food stamp recruiter. Her job is to sign up 150 seniors monthly in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
It’s not that easy. She hands out gift baskets for potential recruits and follows up with phone calls to the reluctant. Elsewhere, Rhode Island holds SNAP-themed bingo parties while Alabama distributes fliers urging people to “Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home.” The agriculture department has issued employees a helpful guide on how to “overcome the word ‘no.’”
But some of Dillie’s patriots still aren’t so sure they want to take the help. A Korean War veteran asked her, “If I signed up, what would I tell my wife?” In a recent Washington Post profile (evtnow.com/nerios), another potential recruit hesitated because he had “plenty of food at home.”
Here is Dillie’s problem. Her targets are Americans who still believe in self-sufficiency, the notion that you’re not entitled to the fruits of the labor of others and that you should accept their charity only when no other options exist. So Dillie soldiers on, trying to break down their resolve by assuring them that they “deserve” the handout and it’s foolish to “wait until you need it.”
But why does Dillie’s job exist at all? Isn’t it enough to make benefit programs widely available to those who need them? Aren’t we in enough trouble financially? Don’t we desperately need to curb government spending? What’s going on here?
Fiscal conservatives, myself included, have tended to see the growth of the unaffordable welfare state as a result of spineless politicians giving in to the insatiable demand for more benefits.
The more accurate picture is that those politicians aren’t “giving in” at all — they’re intentionally stimulating the demand for more government handouts.
The modern American Left has a positive, passionate interest in increasing government spending and a profound disinterest in saving, even where nobody would be hurt. When President Obama promised during the campaign to go through the budget “line by line” to root out wasteful and unjustified spending programs, he was just messing with us. Nothing of the sort ever happened.
Instead, programs like SNAP flourish, not really because of need, but because the ideologues in charge want them to expand. SNAP in Florida has gone from 1.45 million enrolled in 2008 to 3.5 million last year. Nationally, 48 million proud Americans accept food help from the government, one in seven of us.
Yet, even that’s not enough. Circulars in Spanish have been distributed assuring potential SNAP beneficiaries that they need not disclose their immigration status to sign up. The more people dependent on government, the better!
If Obama had conducted the budget scrutiny he promised, he might have uncovered the fact that the federal government has over 13,000 bank accounts with zero balances for which we paid out $890,000 in service fees. Even if there’s not that much money involved, any one of us would have immediately closed an empty account we’re still paying for. Even this minimal level of fiscal responsibility eludes our unmotivated government officials.
If our mind set were different, opportunities would abound to trim our bloated federal budget. In Britain, they recently required everyone on the government disability program to have medical testing to confirm that they were unable to work. The results? One-third of the recipients simply dropped out of the program. Of the rest, over half were found fit to work and a quarter were deemed able to do some work.
In America, we’ve seen a nine fold increase in SSI disability recipients over the last 50 years, a period when work has become less physically demanding and medical care has improved. Is it possible that we too could reduce the cost of our program while still helping those truly in need? Again, there’s not the slightest sign of interest from the political class.
Most Americans register high levels of concern about government spending and the Mother of All Financial Crises we’re courting with our growing debt load. It’s outrageous that so many bureaucrats and politicians, for short-term political gain, are actively working against us.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.