I recently read an opinion from a member of our community about how people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to feed themselves and their families are commenting on working class America. This criticism was expressed in the context of a discussion about the rapid rise in grocery prices. The man who shared this point of view was always, he says, paying with his living. So why should his tax dollars pay someone else’s money? Especially since this person may be receiving these benefits fraudulently.
This is not a new idea. It is a common message and strategy pushed by the media, think tanks, politicians, and other mouthpieces of corporate America to deflect and shift blame from complex issues like economic inequality and inflation onto the “killers” and “opportunists” who game the system. These individuals definitely exist. But we must all recognize that these messages are often an insidious and divisive tactic that exploits our human tendency to search for a simple explanation for our suffering.
SNAP is our front line of defense against food insecurity and hunger in this country. The belief that this program has been overrun by lazy assholes and people faking disabilities is not supported by any credible evidence. These accusations are often backed by speculation and anecdotes such as “I know someone exploiting the system, so the problem must be rampant.” The truth is, defrauding SNAP recipients is rare and is a criminal offense in Indiana. The rate of trafficking in SNAP benefits is also very low: less than 2% according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees SNAP.
People who believe that families on SNAP contribute in any significant way to their struggle to keep food on the table are channeling their frustration. When we hear disparaging accounts of welfare beneficiaries tossed around by pundits, politicians and the corporate media, we should ask ourselves: Who benefits from my misdirected anger on this issue?
The rising cost of living and wages that have failed to keep up are a source of chronic stress and existential dread for many. Yet the extent to which SNAP families benefit from public utility coffers pales in comparison to what We the People have to offer in the form of corporate grants and tax cuts for the wealthy. We lose a lot of personal and public gains by electing representatives who fail to address or accelerate the rising tide of income inequality by enacting tax laws with rate cuts and loopholes that exclusively help corporations and the top 0.1% of earners.
It hurts to see people in the middle and lower classes fighting and attacking each other about SNAP and other welfare programs. However, it raises an interesting question: aren’t we all beneficiaries of welfare? When I say welfare, I am not referring only to government assistance programs that should serve as an assurance to all citizens of the United States that we will survive with dignity even if we run into misfortune. What I mean is security, opportunity, comfort and prosperity that we have not earned. There are countless examples I could point to, but let’s consider just a few.
Perhaps the most pressing case in this regard is the legions of soldiers who fought, suffered, or died to secure 250 years of American democracy. We did not gain the security and rights that we enjoy today; They have been given and paid for by hundreds of thousands of people we don’t know. Consider here the activists, scientists, engineers, and actors who have advanced technology and policies in the field of human health. Global life expectancy doubled between 1920 and 2020. It’s easy to take for granted the high standard of living that we get through clean water, clean air, safe medicines, and uncontaminated food, but these are the fruits of our efforts.
For those who lead comfortable, prosperous lives, you can reflect on the sacrifices of your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who may have supported you by lifting one (or both) of your proverbial shoe.
We are all beneficiaries of social welfare. We all routinely benefit from a check that someone else got. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and the family that buys soda with their SNAP card isn’t your enemy. If you want to target the architect of your suffering, at least choose the right target.
– Rebecca Persic