What do these three things have in common? An energy drink, Christmas chocolates and potato chips. Apart from the obvious, they can all be purchased with food stamps.
It doesn’t matter whether you live in Montana or Oklahoma, in Washington, D.C., or Memphis. The policy of this country is: If you’re down and out, if you’re struggling to make ends meet, you can use government assistance to buy products that are not necessarily nutritious.
And try as legislators might to change it, they cannot. There is only one program in the country to help poor people struggling to buy food, and for that program, the rules are written inside the Beltway, not by the people most affected, and not by the people who are most in a position to help. And not in a way intended to lift people out of poverty.
This is what I told legislators and think tank representatives at a meeting last week in Washington, D.C. For the last few years, we have worked hard to cut Idaho’s dependence on the federal government, but the food stamp program, which has been used by more than 200,000 Idahoans, is one of the hardest policy problems to confront.
Just ask Maine. A couple of weeks ago, the federal government threatened to cut off Maine’s food stamp funding because the state decided to put photo IDs on benefit cards. Other states have similarly attempted to dabble in modest reforms to the program, only to be rebuked.
It really is time to give states the freedom to set their own policies, to decide whether Christmas chocolates or energy drinks should be bought with taxpayer dollars. Let’s have poverty programs managed within individual states where people and communities care the most and want to help the most.
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