Government assistance not intended to foster dependency

Jun 16, 2013

Americans have a long and proud tradition of extending aid to their fellow citizens in times of need. When our friends, our families and our communities need help we have provided it, as individuals and as members of religious and civic organizations. And, as taxpayers, through our government.

The Great (and long lingering) Recession of 2008 has been no exception. During this period of massive job losses and economic dislocation, millions of Americans turned to government assistance to ward off destitution while they sought a new foothold on the ladder of opportunity. One thing government assistance was never intended to foster, however, is an endlessly expanding culture of dependency. Perpetual reliance on welfare does not provide a pathway to self-reliance. Rather, it guarantees a place in the permanent underclass. And American taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize it.
Sadly, too many of those in power in Washington, D.C., today take a different view. A glaring example of this attitude can be found in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food stamp (more formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Outreach Program or SNAP) “outreach” program. At a time when reliance on food stamps has grown exponentially – with the number of participants nearly doubling to 48 million between 2008-2012 – USDA has seen fit to increase efforts to recruit even more recipients.

Most egregiously, this program has included a food stamp marketing effort that goes beyond our borders and is aimed at non-citizens living in the United States. USDA officials have traveled to Mexico in recent years to collaborate with their Mexican government counterparts on ways to increase participation in SNAP by non-American citizens. Part of that campaign was the production of a 55-page brochure outlining eligibility guidelines that included a specific declaration aimed at those in the U.S. illegally: “You need not divulge information regarding your immigration status in seeking benefits for your children.” There is no rational excuse for this kind of promotion.

Taxpayers in Macomb County, across the 10th Congressional District and the country should not be expected to subsidize the recruitment of non-citizens into the U.S. food stamp program. Not at a time when the overall cost of the program has doubled in just the last four years to nearly $80 billion, and the people paying the bill are living paycheck to paycheck to put food on the table at home. That’s why I support measures currently pending in the House Farm Bill to eliminate funding for food stamp outreach outside the United States, and a separate House bill to prohibit USDA from entering into agreements with foreign governments to promoted enrollment in SNAP (H.R. 1882).

Defenders of food stamp outreach insist they are only seeking to enroll those who are already eligible and in need. Defenders of the current administration note that outreach efforts were initiated under former President George W. Bush. But a counter-productive policy shouldn’t be sustained based on its partisan pedigree. And the explosive growth in the use of food stamps, which has accelerated wildly in the last four years, should cause us to reconsider decisions made to expand eligibility well beyond the scope of the original program.

As our response to natural disasters around the world and within our own borders has shown time and again, Americans are among the most compassionate people on earth. Our capacity for voluntary charity is practically boundless. But that doesn't mean the American government should use our involuntarily collected taxes to ring the dinner bell all over the globe.