September 17, 2011

Food Stamps: A Microcosm of Out-of-Control Government

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:05 am

FoodStampMontageToo generous, duplicative, and fraud-riddled — yet ever-expanding.

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Note: This column went up at Pajamas Media and was teased here at BizzyBlog on Thursday.

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As shown previously, the economy has been extraordinarily and historically unimpressive since the recession as traditionally defined ended in June 2009. Nevertheless, during the intervening 26 months, according to the more comprehensive Household Survey at the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, seasonally adjusted employment, since bottoming out in December 2009, has grown by 1.67 million, or about 1.2% of the workforce.

This degree of job growth should have caused the number of those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), still popularly known as Food Stamps, to level off or at least grow only slightly, right? Dream on. Food Stamp enrollment during the eighteen months ending in June of this year increased by 6.2 million, or 16%. In the past 3-1/2 years, Food Stamp enrollment has grown by 72%, from 26.3 million to June’s 45.2 million. In 2007, about one in eleven Americans was receiving Food Stamps; now it’s about one in seven.

The Food Stamp program is a case study in good intentions gone wild, and a direct rebuke to those who believe we can’t reduce spending on government welfare and entitlement programs, and reduce or eliminate many other federal programs and departments, without harming the vulnerable.

The original 1964 legislation creating the program was a result of a classic “win-win” logrolling arrangement between urban politicians who wanted to feed poverty-stricken families and rural reps who sought increases in farm subsidies. Predictably, both groups got what they wanted, while taxpayers lost. Uncle Sam’s Agriculture Department originally predicted that the program “would eventually reach 4 million, at a cost of $360 million annually.” By the end of 1974, the number of participants (15 million) and the cost ($2.7 billion, or $1.6 billion in 1964 dollars) had both essentially quadrupled those original estimates. The tab in calendar 2011 will easily top $70 billion.

Individual and family benefits have recently skyrocketed for no defensible reason. During the last few years of the Bush administration, leftists ramped up an orchestrated PR campaign called the Food Stamp Challenge. It was designed to prove how absolutely impossible it was to survive on the program’s average benefit of $21 per person per week. Among those who agreed to participate in what they claimed was the grocery-store version of Mission: Impossible were several congresspersons, Oregon’s governor, and many journalists.

But the $21 benchmark was a fraudulent figure. It was the average net benefit after legally mandated deductions from gross benefits for family income and assets, the reasonable idea being that the government would make up the difference between 30% of a household’s income and what recipients could afford to pay for food from their own resources. Depending on household size, individuals and families deemed as having no available resources were getting $27-$36 per person per week in benefits — amounts that roughly coincided with what the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the time considered to be the cost of its “thrifty” but adequately nutritional meal plan. Rather than argue the merits of the income- or asset-based deductions, Food Stamp Challenge promoters refused to even recognize their existence, falsely insisting that the net benefit was all recipients had to spend on food. Meanwhile, during August 2007, Colorado activist Ari Armstrong and his wife demonstrated that they could live within even the artificially low Food Stamp Challenge amount without undue hardship, and spent a whopping 44% less than the gross benefit amount.

Even though benefits were already adequate, and even though the cost of food at home increased by a bit less than 5% during the two years involved, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s Congress, with George W. Bush acquiescing, increased gross benefits in fiscal 2009 by 9%. Once Barack Obama became president, gross benefits went up two times in just over eight months by a total of 13%. These increases, combined with rules changes in many states easing income, asset and other eligibility tests, caused the average net benefit over those two years to explode by 40%. Gross benefit levels have stayed the same since October 2009, but they’re still way above the reasonable levels of three years ago. The bottom line is that we no longer expect recipients to be thrifty with their taxpayer gifts.

What ordinary people would see as obvious abuse is clearly on the rise. In Southwestern Ohio in early 2009, a couple with $80,000 in the bank and a paid-off $300,000 home qualified; it was not an isolated incident. Colleges have actively encouraged their students, no matter how well-off their parents might be, to get with the program. In a sign of how widespread student abuse of food stamps might be, Michigan has removed 30,000 of them from the rolls so far this year.

Duplication of benefits between other federal programs is rampant. Children in Food Stamp-eligible families are often if not usually getting free lunches and/or breakfasts at school. It’s not mean or nasty to observe that such families are getting 21 meals’ worth of benefits each week their kids are in school, but only have to figure out how to feed their kids 11 or 16 times. Many college students on food stamps are receiving financial aid based on their school’s officially published cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room — and board.

Thrift being no longer necessary, the next stage is apparently removing the expectation that recipients prepare their own meals. The program’s new frontier is permitting the purchase of restaurant meals. This “feature” is currently limited to four states and is in theory only available to the elderly, disabled, and homeless. If you believe that every fast-food cashier is verifying whether every person paying with their SNAP card really qualifies, I’ve got a Microsoft Sweepstakes-winning email to forward to you. It should be no surprise that lobbying efforts to expand restaurant merchant eligibility are well under way. I sense that another “win-win” at taxpayers’ expense, which will also serve to cement currently too-high benefit levels, is on the horizon.

Finally, the Food Stamp program, like so many other federal efforts, is riddled with fraud. Ohio alone replaces 200,000 supposedly “lost” food stamp cards per year out of a current pool of 1.6 million recipients, or perhaps 500,000 households. Many if not most of the cards are being sold for cash or drugs.

To contend that this and other federal programs and departments can’t be cut — real cuts, not just reductions in projected, artificially jacked-up spending — is absurd. Unless we’re gunning to be the next Greece but without anyone who will bail us out, we can’t afford not to.

Positivity: John Thompson finally gets to thank the man who saved his life

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:33 am

Via Yahoo Sports:

September 12, 2011

Ten years after a television-show booker persuaded John Thompson Jr. not to take the hijacked 9/11 plane that crashed into the Pentagon, the former Georgetown coach finally had the chance to thank the man who saved his life.

Thompson was sharing the story on Monday of how he switched his flight just a few days before the Sept. 11 attacks when national radio host Jim Rome surprised the legendary coach by connecting him on air with Danny Swartz.

It was Swartz who cajoled the notoriously stubborn Thompson into flying to Los Angeles a day later than he originally planned to appear on Rome’s former TV Show, Fox Sports Net’s “The Last Word .” Thompson originally refused to make the appearance on the 12th instead of the 11th because he wanted to make it to Las Vegas the night of the 12th for a birthday party the following day, but Swartz managed to assure the former Georgetown coach he’d arrange the travel details.

“He told me, ‘Coach, if you promise me you’ll come on the 12th, I will get you back to Vegas immediately after we do the taping and I will make certain you get there in time,’” Thompson told Rome. “I’m sitting there saying, ‘Oh hell, I don’t want to do it,’ but the guy was nice.

“Without this kid doing his job in a professional manner, I would have been in trouble. I mean, it would have been over. It really would have been over. But the way you did your job, particularly dealing with a person like me … I certainly do appreciate it. And I’m telling you, if you ever come to Washington , boy, look me up. I’m going to make time for you.”

It didn’t initially occur to Thompson that it could have been his plane that hit the Pentagon even after he felt the crash miles away at his condominium in Arlington, Va. Only after Georgetown academic adviser Mary Fenlon called and told him later that day that was supposed to be his flight did Thompson realize how close he came to dying.

“[She said], ‘Look at your itinerary. You were supposed to be on that plane,’” Thompson said. “‘That plane was the plane you were booked on. If that kid hadn’t talked you out of it, you would have been on that plane.’” …

Go here for the rest of the story.

AP’s Sept. 16 Solyndra Story, Part 2: A Pathetic ‘Both Parties Were In On It’ Attempt

APabsolutelyPathetic0109Part 1 on the Associated Press’s September 16 evening story (“Obama admin reworked Solyndra loan to favor donor”; saved here at my web host for future reference, fair use and discussion purposes) by Matthew Daly and Jack Gillum criticized the reporters and the wire service for making it appear as if all the findings in the story were the result of original work.

Two other paragraphs in the report in my opinion represent a blatant but clumsy attempt to give the impression that the bankruptcy of a major beneficiary of Department of Energy stimulus-driven loans was a bipartisan fiasco:

Argonaut is an investment vehicle of the George Kaiser Family Foundation of Tulsa, Okla. The foundation is headed by billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama campaign contributor and a frequent visitor to the White House. Kaiser raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, federal election records show. Kaiser has made at least 16 visits to the president’s aides since 2009, according to White House visitor logs.

Madrone Partners is affiliated with the Walton family, descendants of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. Rob Walton, the eldest son of Sam Walton, contributed $2,500 last year to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Y’all get the point, don’t you? George Kaiser, Democrat. Rob Walton, Republican. Therefore, the takeaway is supposed to be that donors to both parties were somehow involved in convincing the government to allow their January Argonaut-Madrone loan of $69 million to have senior status over all other debt, including money the company owed Uncle Sam.

Even ignoring the huge difference in amounts given — Give me a break. But it’s far worse than that. Rob Walton gave far more money to Democrats in 2008 when it arguably would have been far more relevant to getting Solyndra’s original funding. Additionally, I couldn’t even find the $2,500 contribution to the RNC the AP reporters claim occurred.

Madrone Partners may be funded by the Waltons, and I don’t want to pretend that they have no influence, but as seen here, the investment firm’s two executives, Greg Boyd Penner and Thomas A. Patterson, are not family members. In addition, the investment firm appears to have no publicly identified board or committees, which would not be particularly unusual for such an operation.

Readers will note at this Business Week link that Penner and Patterson have 115 and 39 “relationships,” respectively. These “relationships” are described at each gentleman’s link as “Board Members Affiliated.” Those listed appear to be members of other boards on which Penner and Patterson serve. Patterson’s detailed affiliation page indicates that he has no common board link to anyone named Walton. Penner has two Walton links, one with “S. Robson Walton” of Greener Capital, who is the “Rob Walton” to whom AP refers, and another with “Jim Walton” of Arvest Bank Group. The common affiliation is that all three gentlemen are on Wal-Mart’s board.

In contrast to how it reported Kaiser’s involvement as head of the Kaiser Family Foundation which has invested in and runs Argonaut, note that the AP reporters did not specifically say that “Rob Walton” has any active involvement in Madrone or the foundation funding it. This may be because he doesn’t. If he really doesn’t, why name him? If he does, why not specify what his involvement is?

Daly and Gillum were also strangely selective in identifying the political contributions of S. Robson Walton aka “Rob Walton” (2008 OpenSecrets.org link; 2010 link; note that searches on “Rob Walton” and “Robert Walton” at the Heavy Hitters section of OpenSecrets.org both came up empty):

RobWaltonPoliticalContribs2008and2010

First, note that the $2,500 contribution the AP specifically named in its story isn’t present. Second, and far more important, note that Rob Walton and his wife donated far more than $2,500 to the DNC and Barack Obama in 2008. The combined 2008 total of $34,100 is about 14 times larger than the unlocated $2,500 contribution the wire service claims Rob Walton made to the RNC. If one is going to allege quid pro quo — and again, if Rob Walton even has anything to do with Madrone, which the AP never really established — the money going to Democrats in 2008 in anticipation of regime change is far more relevant.

It appears that Matthew Byers and Jack Gillum might have thought that their story was too harsh on Democrats and felt like they need to throw in something — anything — that would make it appear that Republicans also got their hands dirty with Solyndra. If so — Nice try, guys; no sale. But, again if my take on things is correct, what an incredibly irresponsible and deceptive thing to do.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.