Saturday, January 11, 2014

SNAP reform...

I'm open to suggestions. But first consider the worst (I hope) of the problem.

It works like this: Once a month, the debit-card accounts of those receiving what we still call food stamps are credited with a few hundred dollars — about $500 for a family of four, on average — which are immediately converted into a unit of exchange, in this case cases of soda. On the day when accounts are credited, local establishments accepting EBT cards — and all across the Big White Ghetto, “We Accept Food Stamps” is the new E pluribus unum – are swamped with locals using their public benefits to buy cases and cases — reports put the number at 30 to 40 cases for some buyers — of soda. Those cases of soda then either go on to another retailer, who buys them at 50 cents on the dollar, in effect laundering those $500 in monthly benefits into $250 in cash — a considerably worse rate than your typical organized-crime money launderer offers — or else they go into the local black-market economy, where they can be used as currency in such ventures as the dealing of unauthorized prescription painkillers — by “pillbillies,” as they are known at the sympathetic establishments in Florida that do so much business with Kentucky and West Virginia that the relevant interstate bus service is nicknamed the “OxyContin Express.” A woman who is intimately familiar with the local drug economy suggests that the exchange rate between sexual favors and cases of pop — some dealers will accept either — is about 1:1, meaning that the value of a woman in the local prescription-drug economy is about $12.99 at Walmart prices. [More of a must read for farmers who depend on SNAP for subsidy politics]
We have created a bizarrely volatile mix of economic disparity, educational left-behinds, ingenious welfare work-arounds, astonishingly effective and easily manufactured opioid narcotics, and declining social immobility that sustains such appalling lifestyles. Clearly, the best-intentioned and even administered efforts, private and public don't seem capable of eradicating these outcomes.

For some, that would justify ending such efforts. I think a better choice - or at least one somewhat easier to live with - is to continue the struggle to minimize the number of people who choose or are forced into these situations. I'm not advocating more public dollars, but relentless efforts to find ladders and and reasons for people to use them to lift themselves to better lives. In short, make The White Ghetto smaller inch by inch.

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