Aww, SNAP!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I would be willing to bet not many of us would think of cutting back on our grocery budget or medical care to pay for a new door lock ó or a multi-million dollar fence for that matter. Well, Iowaís own Rep. Steve King is proposing something along those lines. Iím sure youíve heard the CNN interview by now in which he proposed the infamous southern border wall be paid for by cutting half-a-billion dollars out of Planned Parent Hoodís budget and $4.5 billion out of the Federal food stamps program, now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and entitlements for people who havenít worked in three generations.

Iím not opposed to getting people back to work. So Iím going to leave that last part alone, though Iím not sure I agree with his estimation that 10 million jobs will be created through securing the boarder wall. Some companies and, by extension, communities rely on undocumented workers. If you donít believe me, kindly direct your attention to Postville.

But like I said, thatís not the point. Rep. King is concerned that the SNAP program is essentially overpopulated. He said the enrollment in SNAP had risen from 19 million people to 47 million people ó though he didnít give a timeframe for that rise.

Lucky for you, I just happen to have the time to look into these things and the last time the USDA recorded SNAP participation as low as 19 million people was in 2002.

SNAP itself estimated in January of 2016 that 45.4 million people in the U.S. use the program, so Rep. Kingís estimate that weíre currently at 47 million is probably pretty accurate.

CNNís Alisyn Camerota asked King if he believed not everyone participating was in need of the program.

ďIím sure all of them donít need it,Ē King said, adding that the program needs to ratchet down. ďWe built the program to solve the problem of malnutrition in America and now we have a problem of obesity. When you match up the EBT card with what the scale says on some of those folks, I think itís worth taking a look at. Michelle Obama looked at it, Republicans should be able to look at it too.Ē

It would seem the conclusion is that if youíre obese you have enough money to stay off of SNAP. That idea called to mind an article Iíd read a few years ago. Let me direct you to a National Geographic article. They met some people in cities that might ring a bell, like Charles City and Osage, who are struggling with hunger and obesity.

Health foods, like fruits and vegetables arenít always within financial reach for some of us. The cost of such things has risen by 24 percent since the 1980s, according to the article. Meanwhile, inexpensive food, which has ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, have dropped. Frankly, if youíre low on cash, you may have to stick with the cheap stuff to keep from going hungry, but it will make you bigger. Thatís not a good cycle to start.

Hereís the part that caught me. We in Iowa produce and are surrounded by a crop that is returned to us in processed form. We eat it, we drink it, we fill our cars with it and we even get it back as water-soluble packing peanuts in our online order deliveries. But those who arenít benefiting from the sales eat and drink it too, because it becomes what they can afford. In some cases, it coils back on Iowans too, as the article points out.

ďThese are the very crops that end up on Christina Dreierís kitchen table in the form of hot dogs made of corn-raised beef, Mountain Dew sweetened with corn syrup, and chicken nuggets fried in soybean oil. Theyíre also the foods that the U.S. government supports the most. In 2012 it spent roughly $11 billion to subsidize and insure commodity crops like corn and soy, with Iowa among the states receiving the highest subsidies. The government spends much less to bolster the production of the fruits and vegetables its own nutrition guidelines say should make up half the food on our plates. In 2011, it spent only $1.6 billion to subsidize and insure Ďspecialty cropsíóthe bureaucratic term for fruits and vegetables.Ē

Hereís the rub. We Iowans love our corn subsidies (for some reason, some of us in northwest Iowa seem to be opposed to wind subsidies but thatís another matter). Iím conflicted about how to solve this problem. Itís like weíve become addicted to our subsidies in a way. There are people out there who are obese, in part, because they can only afford the cheap fattening foods that are made from our subsidized corn. But what our Representative is proposing is that we combat an obesity issue by taking away access to supplemental nutrition, which would force many low income families to buy what will make them obese, because thatís what they can afford on their own.

And all this for a wall that can be thwarted by an inflatable raft.