If you’re a recipient of food assistance, you better look the part. Otherwise, Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin is going to take away your food stamps.
We’ve heard all the tropes. Social welfare programs encourage people to stay home and watch Spongebob Squarepants. Fraud in these programs is rampant. Apparently, Rep. Mullin has seen it with his own eyes, and he clued his constituents in on this boondoggle at a town hall meeting last week. According to Think Progress:
So I’m in Crystal City and I’m buying my groceries…and I noticed everybody was giving that card. They had these huge baskets, and I realized it was the first of the month. But then I’m looking over, and there’s a couple beside me. This guy was built like a brick house. I mean he had muscles all over him. He was in a little tank top and pair of shorts and really nice Nike shoes. And she was standing there, and she was all in shape and she looked like she had just come from a fitness program. She was in the spandex, and you know, they were both physically fit. And they go up in front of me and they pay with that card. Fraud. Absolute 100% all it is is fraud…it’s all over the place. And there you go, to the fact that we shouldn’t be supporting those who won’t work. They’re spending their money someplace.
Oh! I see. This guy sees a couple of people — who, I might add, the good representative does not know — and makes sweeping judgements about their lives. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s assume for a moment that Rep. Mullin is right and these two people he supposedly saw are spectacular physical specimens. That doesn’t automatically make them fit to work. You can be considered disabled under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP or food stamps, if you receive federal disability payments under the Social Security Act. Under the Social Security Act you can be disabled if you have a mental disorder, like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. You can’t always tell when someone has a mental disorder that keeps them from working, and it’s presumptuous to think that just because someone “looks” healthy, whatever that means, that they have no business claiming social welfare benefits.
Even if we give Rep. Mullin the ultimate benefit of the doubt and the worst interpretation of his experience is true, that in no way means that there is “100% fraud” in SNAP. He saw one couple one time, for crying out loud! Think Progress even reported back in June that SNAP fraud is down to one percent:
In fact, the jump in food stamp enrollment is due almost entirely to the catastrophic economic collapse and ensuing Great Recession. Even amid that heightened strain on the program’s staff, “SNAP achieved its lowest error rates on record in fiscal year 2011,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Outright fraud is down to just one percent.
Yeah. That’s why responsible people try not to create policies based on one, or even a handful, of personal experiences.
It’s easy to make snap judgments about people based on how they look. For some reason, poverty is still considered by a lot of people to be some kind of moral failing. (It arguably is, but a failing of the those in power that allow poverty to occur, not the people living in it). Making judgments about an entire population of people and an entire program based on a couple of subjective experiences is not only unwise policy, but it’s insulting to the millions of food insecure people in the country.
Photo Credit: Robert Neff / Flickr