Bloomberg Gets a Clue – Sort of

11 Oct

There are not many issues where Michael Bloomberg and I see eye-to-eye. Actually, I can’t think of any at the moment, but when it comes to banning soda from Food Stamp (now called Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – SNAP) purchases, I’m on board. But for a different reason – and I think it should go further.

In a former life, I worked for several years at a local grocery chain and saw firsthand the waste and abuse of the Food Stamp program. It was maddening.

My first experience was when I was working in a store in the Southside of Richmond. One afternoon I noticed several small children come in succession to buy gum or a candy bar with a $1 food stamp. At that time two things were in play – $1 Food Stamps required no ID, and actual change, not a voucher, was given in return. This in itself would not have been so unusual, except that each child walked out of the store and handed the cash to a man waiting outside. They would usually repeat this several times depending on the number of children that were involved.

It was irritating enough that tax dollars were being spent on candy and gum, but I figured they didn’t create the situation they were in. What happened at the end of this cycle is what really set my blood to boiling. After the children were gone, the man would enter the store, go straight to the beer and wine and come back to the cash register with his favorite libation. All paid for in change from the candy purchases. This was not one man, not the same children, and the scheme was going on all across the city.

On the one hand, I salute their ingenuity, everyone got something – the kids got candy, the wino got the wine, and the taxpayer got screwed. I did put a stop to that in our store by forcing the children to use the change on subsequent visits, so they moved on to other stores I’m sure. Eventually the Department of Agriculture had stores start issuing voucher receipts instead of change to $1 food stamps, something they had required all along for larger denominations.

But that wasn’t the only scam in town. Every Friday morning another man (always the same one) would enter the store and proceed to load up two shopping carts with sodas, chips, dips, cookies, juices, and sandwich items. About once a month in the summer he’d include all the fixings for a cookout (steak and potatoes) and by the number of steaks, it was no small gathering. Oddly, this man would always pay with $1 stamps. Hundreds of them sometime. Again, no ID required to say you are a validated recipient.

After several weeks of this I asked one of the managers, a former police officer, what in the world was going on. He told me they had house parties and the admission was $2 in Food Stamps. This man was one of the organizers. What did they do at these parties? Gambling and girls. I presume those required cash, but the food was provided courtesy of the rest of us.

I contacted the local Department of Agriculture office and offered them copies of the receipts which clearly showed a pattern of abuse and even invited the field office supervisor to come witness this himself.  He declined saying there was nothing he could do about it even if he saw it. I saw it as a matter of ‘would not’ rather than ‘could not’.

In all the years that I witnessed hundreds of Food Stamp shoppers descend on the store on the 1st of each month, I can think of only ONE shopper who routinely shopped for nutritious foods for her family. ONE. The rest filled their carts with junk food, sodas, high priced meats and seafood, premium label foods, and other items that are not going to feed a family for very long or very well.

The WIC (Women, Infant, Children), administered by the USDA at national and regional levels and administered by State Health Departments is paid for by taxpayer dollars through grants to the States. WIC requires stringent adherence to nutritional values on all items purchased. No one criticizes that program for its stipulations.

The Food Stamp program should do the same. For those who cry discrimination and say that those poor souls will be embarrassed by having to separate out their items; they already do as they are not allowed to buy paper products, detergents, or hygiene items on the program. Personally, I’d rather them buy detergent than chips or steak if we’re paying for it.

Bloomberg and Patterson have the right discussion, but the wrong reason. Banning sugary drinks to fight obesity is like banning going to Virginia Beach to prevent drowning. It completely omits the rest of the junk food category. For their stated intent, it doesn’t go far enough.

From my point of view, sugary drinks need to be banned, along with junk food and premium foods – because the recipients are eating on our tab – with money that we worked for and earned. Allowing them to select items without any restrictions makes as much sense as sending them to Ruth’s Chris® while we eat at Taco Bell®. When they earn it, they can buy and eat whatever they want. 



Posted by on October 11, 2010 in Entitlements, Food Stamps, WIC


7 responses to “Bloomberg Gets a Clue – Sort of

  1. P. Henry Saddleburr

    October 11, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Welcome aboard, Miss Sampson.

  2. Martin M. McMartin

    October 11, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Welcome Deborah,
    A very well thought out discussion but I am afraid what you and the Mayor fail to recognize is that the Food Stamp program is not intended to provide nutritious sustanance to those who are in need, it is solely intended to pander for votes.
    I also have a Food Stamp fraud story from the 1980’s. I was working in Camden New Jersey wholeselling potato chips to local mom & pop stores when I witnessed a drug dealer come into the store and sold $1000 worth of loose food stamps to the owner for $500 in cash. I assumed that he sold less than $500 worth of illegal drugs for that $1000 in food stamps.
    The bottom line is the liberal politicians prop up the economy with food stamp programs in return for votes at election time, they really do not care what they do with them.
    Oh yeah, I don’t know if Bloomberg knows it or not, but the only drinks sold in these neighborhood stores are sugary or alcoholic or both, they do not stock diet drinks in the hood and those jugs of Kool-Aid type drinks or sport drinks are full of sugar as well.

    • Deborah Sampson

      October 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm

      Of course, how silly of me.

  3. Martin M. McMartin

    October 11, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Apparently it will also require an act of congress and I do not think Charlie Rangel will let that happen;

    According to Joel Berg, director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a former USDA official, there’s an even bigger problem with banning soda purchases with food stamps: It’s against the law.

    “It’s illegal for USDA to unilaterally do this,” says Berg. He notes that in 2004, Minnesota asked for a similar waiver for not just soda but candy, too, and was shot down — exactly because, he says, the agency isn’t allowed to ban purchases of certain items without Congressional approval. “This isn’t a contested gray area. It’s absolutely clear. I do think it’s a bit of grandstanding. If their lawyers have even given this a cursory look, they’ve got to know there’s no way USDA can do this.”

  4. Saddlesore

    October 12, 2010 at 12:22 am

    Food stamps just illustrate what a morass one gets into once income is redistributed, even if one pretends it a food program, like food stamps.

    The alleged purpose of food stamps may be to help the poor, but the real reason is to give farmers a subsidy by increasing the demand for food.

    Nonetheless, I am reluctant to treat the poor like guinea pigs just because they are poor. The federal government has no more right to tell them what to eat than it does for anyone else. Of course, with Obabmacare who knows.

    Anyway, this is just one more example of what a quagmire the whole welfare state/income redistribution approach to social policy becomes. A better social policy would be to promote jobs and economic growth and people will be able to feed themselves.

    • Deborah Sampson

      October 12, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      Saddlesore, I must respectfully disagree on one of your points. I too am against government intervenion into private lives, bvt in this case the gov’t has every right to limit the selection. Again, I point to the WIC program which is quite specific and limiting to ensure that Expectant mothers and their young children are receiving proper nutrition. Not only does it specify the items, it specifies the amounts they can purchase each week.

      Considering that almost 100% of the food the recipients are buying is pure junk, the only farmers stamps are subsidizing these days are the big corporations. The local farmers selling produce in its natural state – not so much.

      As far as social policy, I’m fond of that old adage about teaching a man to fish.

      • Martin M. McMartin

        October 13, 2010 at 7:40 am

        I have always believed that the strict specifics and limitations of the WIC program were to insure the health of the child in this case (unlike Roe v Wade) the government protects the unborn or very young child by regulating what food can be purchased and may therefore not be an effective comparison.


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