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Discussing the nation’s dependence on Food Stamps is likely to put many people into a defensive mode. Some feel resentful of those accepting government food subsidy. People on Food Stamps are sensitive to criticism in the media because often it comes with the implication that they are lazy or exploiting the system. Of course, fraud is a concern, but despite the national narrative, we would argue that these people are victims more often than not.
As readers of this blog are aware, we feel that the nation’s economy is at serious risk. Words like “meltdown” and “collapse” often come to mind. In the event of a financial crisis, Food Stamp recipients all over the country could be endangered. Unless the government responds quickly, violence could easily erupt as people attempt to secure food. Lets walk through it, but first we need to explain how bad the problem has gotten.
Food Stamp Usage
In the last five years, usage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called Food Stamps, has exploded, nearly doubling from about 26 million in 2007 to about 47.7 million today. An average of one out of every 6.5 Americans is now dependent on the government for food assistance, an absolutely stunning statistic.
In 1971, five percent of the population or roughly one in 20 used the program. Since 2007 it has grown by almost as much as all previous years combined. And the situation is worsening. Recent government reports confirmed there have been roughly 1 million new enrollees in just the last two months! Think about it. A million people. This does not include possible increases related to Hurricane Sandy which won’t be released until later this month.
Examine this chart courtesy of the financial blog Zero Hedge. As you can see, Food Stamp usage has been relatively stable for most of 2012, but suddenly increased in September and October of this year. This cannot be explained away with unusual seasonal disruptions, which we suspect is why it wasn’t mentioned by any mainstream media outlet in television or print.
Ironically, in most states, the Food Stamp program is run by JP Morgan, a firm you’ll remember is partially responsible for the collapse in real wages, high unemployment, and of course market bubbles.
While the program is helpful for those that need it, you can’t have the number of enrollees approaching 50 million people and still argue this is a simple welfare program. It’s evolved well beyond that now. So what purpose do Food Stamps really serve? The answer as usual is money and power, but not for the program’s recipients.
1) Food Stamps provide a subsidy to corporate America.
In the case of food stamps, the government provides an income subsidy to the nation’s poorest and often most exploited workers. Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, pays its workers an average of $8.50 an hour, just above the federal minimum wage. This translates to about $17,680 a year. Critics have accused the company of encouraging employees to use state welfare services so their employees don’t demand a living wage.
2) Food Stamps suppresses societal backlash.
In addition to relieving corporations from the stresses of having to respond to widespread poverty, it also frees the government from having to respond, both from poor communities and from conscientious middle class observers. Despite the ongoing societal collapse, the economy appears to remain functional for most people.
Bread lines have been replaced with discrete Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which function similar to a debit card. With Food Stamps, even without a job, most beneficiaries are able to avoid starvation. The most serious and visual effects of our devastated economy are hidden from view of the middle class. Those reliant on the system are sufficiently content to avoid protesting in the street en masse.
3) Finally, Food Stamps make people slaves to the government.
When people are dependent on Food Stamps or any other government service, this gives the government power. So far, the government mostly uses this power to prevent fraud, but it isn’t difficult to imagine the government using the food supply to control people in other ways. It may sound conspiratorial, but the government may one day require RFID implants for all Food Stamp recipients or other welfare beneficiaries. Biometric identification methods are already optional in several states, and a USDA report makes it clear the government wants to expand the program to eliminate fraud.
This, in conjunction with other legal barriers, can hold low-income people to a higher standard of identification. If a person is caught committing welfare fraud, they will never receive help from the government again; compare this to the ongoing amnesty of the criminal banks if you want a sense of the government’s priorities.
Solutions to these problems would require radical economy-wide changes, including dismantling the current power structure. This is obviously unacceptable to the power elite and so the fraud will continue until it cannot anymore; until the pressure becomes so great that it explodes, causing far more destruction that would ever have occurred if we addressed our problems sooner.
What would happen in the event of a financial collapse?
When you have 47.7 million people reliant Food Stamps in the world’s largest and most important economy - roughly 15 percent of its population - you have a serious problem, and yet our political leaders have proposed no solutions except to wait and hope the economy recovers. In the meantime, the debt is getting larger, global instability is increasing, as is the likelihood of financial disaster.
Consider what would happen in the event of a sudden financial crisis. A bank holiday would be almost certain. Credit cards and debit cards would be useless. EBT, again run by JP Morgan, would also cease to function. Left with what little cash Americans had on hand, some would be able to rough it for a while. However, America’s most vulnerable, those dependent on government assistance, would find themselves unable to afford food. Within a very short period of time, food riots would erupt around the country. If the crisis escalated, the level of violence could be greater than any living person has ever seen. In some areas, martial law would not only be justified, but desirable.
Our decades-long attempt to paper over our problems has resulted in mass instability. Unless you believe things are suddenly going to get better (How could you, after all we’ve seen?), it’s only a matter of time before this situation erupts.
Our society has become quite adept at avoiding risk. We paper over social problems by generally offsetting or delaying anything that would resemble an attempt to actually deal with our many problems. While “kicking the can down the road” has its advantages, it has a cost. Any attempt to stabilize a collapsing system has a pacifying effect in the short term, but eventually, problems which may have been small, eventually mount, threatening to cause a cascade.
The increased use of Food Stamps, over-prescribed pharmaceuticals, the attempt to restrict guns and the Federal Reserve’s money printing are just some of the attempts to stem the symptoms of our national sickness without actually addressing the problems of low wages, societal decay, crass consumerism and widespread mental instability.
If the support Food Stamps provide is suddenly withdrawn, the level of disruption it would create would be stunning — let alone any other ill effects a financial crisis would cause. Citizens would be well advised to consider their surroundings going into the new year. How vulnerable is your community to disruption? More on this later.
Sean Kerrigan is a freelance journalist and occasional blogger concentrating on new media, finance, and politics. He has written for several daily and weekly newspapers including the Bucks County Courier Times. He is also the author of Corporatocracy: An Introduction to the New American Government.
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