I’ve always been a believer in small government. Only years ago, I was very much opposed to any social welfare programs.
I believed “get a job” or “get a second job” was the answer for anybody not making it financially. I still believe there is some truth to that line of thought, but it’s also flawed.
In fact, hard work doesn’t always pay off in our society. There are folks who work their tails off on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder, and there are some at the top who have fallen into their fortunes having put forth no effort.
Some people working their way through life and contributing to our society simply struggle. That is capitalism. There are winners, and there are losers. I don’t mean losers as in bad or worthless people. I just mean there are folks who end up on the short end of the stick in our form of economics.
My view on helping those folks has changed. Why not give the guy working 50 hours a week a little help to put food on the table? Why not help the gal working as a waitress at two restaurants with her child care costs? Our government spends money on much worse.
Perhaps I’m growing compassionate as I mature. Maybe as I was growing up in a middle class family in a nice little neighborhood with a loving mother and father, four cars and a boat I never saw the way some folks lived. Thus, I was blind to the economic injustice which is all over the place in our nation.
I noted all of that just to be clear on one premise. I am not opposed to helping people out. I’m not so fiscally conservative as to allow people to starve in the streets.
Programs such as food stamps are the hand-up some folks need. For a family, that support could mean the difference between paying the electric bill or putting food on the table.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the United States government paid out $75 billion to support its food stamp program. There are about 320 million people in the U.S.
A Breibart estimate indicates only about half of Americans pay federal income taxes. I’m no mathologist, but that means those of us who are paying taxes are making an annual investment into the program of nearly $500.
That really personalizes the program for me. It means I have a vested interest in ensuring the program isn’t misused and that the opportunity for assistance is available to all those who need it.
Here in Surry County about $1.5 million is shelled out monthly as part of the federal program, and about 14,000 residents utilize the program.
That’s a lot of money, and a couple weeks ago I left the grocery store displeased. That’s where my $500 goes, I thought after paying for some chicken breasts and a few things we needed at the house — enough to tide us over for a few days until the next time I got paid so as to avoid dipping into savings.
A purchase I witnessed caused me to overheat a bit that evening.
The customer in front of me paid for her groceries using EBT. As I stated, I have no issue with that. However, she had a subsequent purchase — two packs of cigarettes paid for with cash.
I’m not morally opposed to smoking, chewing or drinking. In fact, there’s not much to which I am morally opposed. I don’t care what somebody does with her spare change, but this wasn’t her spare change. It was my spare change.
You see, I and every other person financially supporting the federal food stamps program purchased those cigarettes. Of course, it’s not legal to pay for cigarettes using EBT, but the money which could have been spent on food was diverted to cigarettes as this woman purchased her groceries with EBT.
That leaves me with a question. Could some other person in need have used that money for food rather than cigarettes?
Here’s the long and short of my problem. If one is paying for groceries with EBT while directing cash funds at a $10 cigarette purchase that means — for whatever reason — we are paying $10 too much in help.
As I stated, I hope EBT and other programs help those who need them, but my stomach turns when I see what I did that evening.
I think part of the problem is we don’t live in a society filled with proud people anymore — people who would eliminate any unnecessary cost in their household budgets before asking for help from the government. It ought to be a last resort to throw one’s hand up, cry uncle and ask the government for help.
I don’t know that there’s a fix, so I guess this is just one of those rants about a system set up to help people but is often abused. It felt good to get it out of me though.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.