I tried to get on a radio show today. I didn't get on, but I still have to tell someone what I think; I'm telling my only audience.
The radio program was discussing the statistic that only 1/3 of people in the United States eat at least two servings of fruit every day. The number for vegetables is much more abysmal: 26% eat three or more servings every day. This number has virtually not changed in the last thirty years. They (Science Friday on NPR) were discussing why people aren't eating more fruits and vegetables and trying to come up with ways to encourage healthy eating. They brought up many good and interesting points, but one idea they neglected completely. And I would like to address it.
According to Reuters, 37.9 Million Americans receive food stamps. That is one in eight people. While I do appreciate that the government steps in when people are in a real bind, food stamps are abused and the program guidelines are broken.
Case in point: ours. While we fall well below that qualifying income for food stamps, we cannot receive assistance because we have an IRA. They want us to cash in our IRA then use it up then re-apply. So, for these few months when need a leg up, they want us to disregard all preparations for the future. (Incidentally, I do think a family should do all they can before going to Uncle Sam for help, but the tax penalties for early withdrawal would cut our saved money in half. If there were some kind of reward for being careful with our money, instead of a penalty when the savings was needed, then we would have cashed out our retirement savings.)
Second, my "food and household" allotment (groceries, diapers, Windex, McDonald's) is $300. Food stamps for our family would hover around $1000. That is three zeros. One thousand dollars. Are you kidding? I'm not sure if I could spend that much on food each month. When I applied for help a few years ago, I told the man that I didn't need 1K, I just needed a little help. Even $100-$150 would make all the difference. Nope. All or nothing. He told me that he has people quit their jobs because they do better when they are on public assistance. Well, I should say so. $1000 every month is some fine eatin'.
Finally, and this is the main point I wanted to make on the radio today, food stamps covers just about everything at the grocery store. You can take home Twinkies, Mountain Dew, Liquor, TV dinners, Kool-Aid, potato chips, cheesecake and Jimmy Dean. When you go to the store with a virtually inexhaustible pocketbook, why wouldn't you buy all the crap at eye level? The packages are enticing, the kids are begging, and it's a quick and easy fix to the growling in your stomach. Why go home and soak the beans or de-bone the chicken when the deli corn dogs and jo-jo's are hot and ready? When people claim that it is cheaper to eat junk food than it is to eat healthy, they have never seen my pantry. Beans, rice, oatmeal, whole chickens, potatoes, carrots and onions are not expensive. Sometimes my menu doesn't see a lot of variety, but we eat and we are more healthy than, apparently, about 30% of American society. If food stamps only covered the healthier choices (not unlike WIC), I think we would see a dramatic change in the way we eat. We would see obesity and diabetes plummet. We would learn how to wait until dinner is ready, instead of eating whatever we can grab. If everyone had to pay for those Oreo's, I bet a lot more of us would only buy them as the rare treat they should be.
For at least the most vulnerable 13%.
At least, that's what I think.