It appeared to be an “aha” moment, confirmation that the welfare system is corrupt and out of control. Somebody bought steak and lobster with food stamps. Snopes confirms that it’s true. It happened in Michigan last February.
The good news is that the authorities arrested the man who now faces up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The bad news is that the arrest was not for using charity money for extravagances, but for trying to turn a profit on food stamp money. He sold the stuff for 50 cents on the dollar, thus providing a new reason for Snopes readers to learn the definition of “fungible”.
But the question remains, why was he able to buy such things with food stamps?
The FDA’s food stamp program is now called SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I looked it up. There are many rules and restrictions for eligibility but, notably, the quality of one’s house and car are not among them. The eligibility requirements are HERE. Thus there is the occasional story of someone who lives in a nice house going to the store in a nice car and buying with food stamps. As for what one can buy with SNAP food stamps, there are few restrictions. An FDA web site lists these:
Households CANNOT use SNAP benefits to buy:
- Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco;
- Any nonfood items, such as:
- — pet foods;
- — soaps, paper products; and
- — household supplies.
- Vitamins and medicines.
- Food that will be eaten in the store.
- Hot foods.
The FDA site also says:
Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items
Then there was this:
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.
The FDA bureaucracy has wrestled with the concept of exclusions. The executive summary of a paper on the issues involved in restrictions in the SNAP program are instructive and can be found at this LINK.
This is not a simple topic, but with some 40 million people on the food stamp program and the federal budget busted (or it would be if we had one), I suggest that more restrictions are needed. How about no steak and no lobsters? Hey, it’s a start. I wonder if there could also be restrictions placed on “gourmet foods”?
In my opinion, just a little welfare stigma might actually be good for the public ethos if someone can figure out how to work it in without too much outrage. My heart goes out to the long-term-unemployed, but human nature also ensures that abuse will always attend a welfare system. The steak and lobster incident shows that.
A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for? — Robert Browning (NOT Robert Burns – erratum courtesy of Henry Morgan)