Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham, on her radio program The Laura Ingraham Show, talked recently about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (commonly known as food stamps), explicitly mentioning a Fox News special by Bret Baier titled The Great Food Stamps Binge.
Ingraham called the video one of the scariest things she had ever seen in her life, notably more frightening than anything Stephen King's ever written, and went on to discuss how she finds the food stamps situation absolutely "bonkers." Yet, Ingraham strikes several particularly shaky areas, especially concerning those who have to live off SNAP support for their whole lives, understanding what people buy with food stamps, and finally, the issue of illegal immigrants receiving nutritional assistance.
The plain truth before getting into Ingraham's words is that the U.S. government spends a lot of money on food stamps. About one in every seven Americans falls under the SNAP program and over $74 billion was spent just last year on food stamps. But at the same time, that doesn't mean that this is money pointlessly shoveled into a useless service. Around 85 in every 100 people eligible for the food stamps service are under the poverty line, making less than $900 a month, so the $133 dollars on average that these individuals receive can end up making the difference between having a sufficient amount of food per day or going hungry.
Of course, there are going to be some cases in which citizens abuse their eligibility to SNAP, such as the good-life-living beach bum in the Bret Baier video. But the kind of charity that someone like him would receive can never fully be blamed on food stamps. Yes, SNAP will give him $133 dollars for the month, but he can only use those on groceries. Tobacco, alcohol, cigarettes, and household supplies are not on the list of approved items, so it seems a bit premature to say that food stamps fund a slacker lifestyle. While it was tossed around as more of a side note, a lot of the charity that an individual like the man in Baier's video receives is from friends and family, not necessarily all from the government. After all, $133 a month cannot (both financially and legally) support a pub-crawl-every-night way of living.
Ingraham did touch upon an intriguing topic with the question of what citizens should buy with their food stamps, but not necessarily in the best way. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has never explicitly released information about what is bought with food stamps, but Ingraham's accusations that SNAP-funded individuals walk around supermarkets searching for the best lobster seems slightly absurd. Ingraham claims that citizens using SNAP eat better than she does, but considering that lobsters cost around $10 a pound, it's unlikely that someone would waste part of their $133 on a commodity that's not nearly as sufficient as it is expensive.
What Ingraham should have covered was the liberty of being able to purchase unhealthy options with food stamps. Nutritionists have been pushing for the elimination of foods such as chips and cookies from the SNAP program, but they still haven't received all of the support they properly deserve. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg even tried to bar sodas and sugary drinks from being food stamp eligible, but the movement ultimately was unsuccessful. When attacking the food stamps system, Ingraham should have kept that in mind instead of accusing SNAP recipients of eating luxuriously when in reality a family of four can only spend up to $14 a day for food using food stamps.
Finally, Ingraham brought up the issue of illegal immigration. As Ingraham mentions, aliens can have a child in the U.S. (what she derogatorily calls an "anchor baby"), making that infant technically a U.S. citizen eligible for food stamps. While this is true, Ingraham makes it seem as though the whole family receives support from SNAP just because one member is a U.S. citizen. But according to SNAP eligibility rules, only the son or daughter can receive the stipend. $133 is not exactly a huge number that has the power to turn individuals who would otherwise be impoverished into people who can suddenly get along breezily.
Ingraham does have a point that there are cracks in the SNAP system, but she didn't outline the proper flaws of the program in her segment. Instead, she stereotyped those in circumstances too unfortunate to afford steady access to a heathy diet as lazy and undeserving.