THE PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR THE POOR IS SOMETIMES A PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR ABUSE
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
- REVIEW & OUTLOOK
- September 4, 2012, 7:40 p.m. ET
Food Stamp Nation
Uncle Sam’s free grocery rolls keep growing.
The Obama and Romney campaigns spent Tuesday sniping over whether the President deserves an “incomplete” grade, as Mr. Obama put it, for fixing the economy. The more revealing news was the Department of Agriculture report, released on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, that 46,670,373 Americans are now on food stamps.
That’s an all-time record, at an annual cost of $71.8 billion, $770 billion over a decade. Mull over that one for a minute. That’s nearly one of out every seven people—46 million citizens—who depend on taxpayers to buy one of life’s most basic responsibilities. It’s a good thing breathing air is free.
This isn’t to run down the poor, or those hurt by the recession that Mr. Obama didn’t cause or the recovery that he has done so much to enfeeble. Safety-net benefits and enrollment are supposed to expand or contract with the economy. But under this President there’s been no contraction, even though the recession ended three years ago.
The food-stamp rolls grew by 173,000 in the last month and use is 3.3% higher than a year ago. As recently as 2009 “only” 33 million people took food aid and the program cost $50.4 billion. The food-stamp boom began with the George W. Bush Republicans, who expanded benefits in the appalling 2002 farm bill.
But the supercharger was a 2008 bill out of the Pelosi Congress that goosed eligibility and rebranded the program as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, to reduce the stigma of being on the dole. Then there was the 2009 stimulus, which expanded the program again.
Liberals argued then and still do that food stamps are one of the most effective ways the government can juice the economy. Really, they claim to believe this. The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimates that food stamps have a “multiplier” of 1.79, meaning that every dollar in transfer payments boosts gross domestic product by $1.79. So why not have the feds put everyone on food stamps for three squares a day and really get the economy cooking?
The Romney camp won’t say this because they’ll be accused of being cruel, but having one in every seven Americans dependent on food stamps is not a sign of compassion. It is a sign of economic failure. Recall Paul Ryan’s great line from the GOP convention about “the best this Administration offers—a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”
A version of this article appeared September 5, 2012, on page A16 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Food Stamp Nation.