This is a follow up to my post awhile back in which I lamented that welfare reform is difficult because it will negatively affect a class of people who have no say in the matter and who are not at fault: namely, the children.
Once again, a mundane event spurs me to think about the Big Picture…my younger son and I were shopping at our local supermarket yesterday. He’s been in the workforce some years now, buys much of his own food and is more aware than he used to be. He was there to buy sweet corn for a pot luck that evening. It was a good sale: 6 ears for $1. I’m grateful that our grocery stores here have begun providing a place for shucking the corn and disposing of the husks, right there in the produce aisle, so that one can take home ready-to-cook sweet corn. Adam and I were husking his dozen ears when an older woman walked up. She looked at the sign, looked at the corn, muttered something about, “Oh, you have to clean it yourself. I’m not gonna do that.” Then she picked up a shrink-wrapped package of already cleaned ears–which were two and a half times more expensive–and walked away.
Adam made a comment about it being easy to make those choices when you’re on food stamps…and yes, it was a prejudiced remark, though he’s had enough experience of the world to know it is often true. We had a conversation on the way home which began with my saying, “I don’t know why people are not more careful to see how far they can stretch their food stamp dollars…why don’t they treat it like their own money?” It didn’t occur to me till much later that perhaps they do. Perhaps we have a generation, or a class of people, who do not know how to make wise financial decisions. How could this have happened? (I will now remove my tongue from my cheek and move on.)
Whether this is true or not doesn’t make it OK to allow people to be profligate with tax payer dollars. Adam remarked, “I don’t think people on food stamps should be allowed to buy name brands…they should buy the store brand or the generic. [Implied insert: “Like we do.”] And they shouldn’t buy soft drinks and energy drinks and all that.”
I honestly don’t know exactly what is covered by the food stamp program. I’m sure beer and wine cannot be purchased, but beyond that, I’m unclear on the details. However, I am sure that there is no restriction on what brand of mayonnaise or chicken soup or spaghetti sauce you have to buy. And I suddenly wondered, “Why not?”
Surely this would be the easiest, least intrusively bureaucratic way to–if not save money–at least ensure less waste: simply require that the least expensive brands of any given item are purchased with the food stamps. It would be tied to bar codes and would require some initial data entry, but once done, it would be straightforward. No Food Stamp Police constantly looking over someone’s shoulder. You just scan your card, then check out your groceries and if you have something in your cart that is not covered, you get a message that this item cannot be purchased with food stamps.
Would it actually save us anything? Perhaps not. But it would send a message that we expect all our citizens to use their resources wisely…especially if the resources have been given to them. Stewardship is a concept that we need to learn and relearn, and model for one another. Buying the most expensive brand of peanut butter (unless there’s some medical reason) is not good stewardship. I know it’s late in the day for baby steps, but they add up…it’s up to us to see that we take them in the right direction.