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Editorials

Food stamp use a national disgrace

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Here's something you won't hear speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week bragging about: Food stamp use is at an all-time high.

More than 46.6 million Americans get help buying groceries at a cost of nearly $72 billion a year. In Florida, nearly 3.5 million people are on food stamps.

When the program was started in the 1960s, only one person in 50 was eligible for the program. Now one person in seven receives food stamps.

It is appropriate to ensure the destitute are fed. But even considering the lingering recession, the numbers are clearly bloated. And the increase in food stamp recipients and spending accelerated in the early 2000s, well before the economy ran off the road.

Both parties have participated in an erosion of standards that once ensured the aid was directed to the truly needy.

As a Wednesday Wall Street Journal editorial pointed out, "The food-stamp boom began with the George W. Bush Republicans, who expanded benefits in the appalling 2002 farm bill."

The "supercharger," as the Journal aptly puts it, for food stamps came when Nancy Pelosi's Democrats made eligibility even easier in 2008 and President Obama's 2009 stimulus further expanded the program.

Not only were the standards shredded, the government also, incredibly, campaigned to increase the food stamp numbers, even running television and radio ads urging people to obtain free food.

The program mutated from one that offered essential aid to another overly generous and dependence-promoting handout. The situation directs limited dollars to people who don't really need the assistance, but worse, it encourages fraud, which is conservatively estimated to cost taxpayers about $750 million a year.

Beneficiaries receive a card they use to purchase food. There is a PIN number for the individual's account. The average benefit per card is $132.

One scheme commonly used, detailed by the Fiscal Times, is for a card holder to sell the card and the PIN to someone at less than true value. The buyer of the card quickly uses up its benefits. The seller reports it stolen, too late for the PIN number to be changed and prevent the theft.

Such ingenuity when it comes to gouging tax dollars is to be expected when the government tosses around money too freely. Witness the windstorm of fraud involving IRS returns that has exploded across the nation and is particularly acute in Hillsborough.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken modest steps to combat fraud, including disqualifying and fining retailers who are caught trafficking in stolen food stamps.

But the administration has made little effort to curtail food stamps' ballooning numbers and expense.

Republican vice presidential nominee and Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan backed a plan to reduce food stamp spending $33 billion over the next 10 years. This is projected to reduce recipients by 2 million. He has been lacerated for being hard-hearted, but such a reduction is not unreasonable, considering that in just three years the food stamps rolls increased 13 million.

Does anybody believe that reforming food stamp eligibility standards would cause anyone to miss a meal?

It is not being cruel or uncaring to make sure the program feeds the hungry and only the hungry.

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