Farm Bill (and the nature of fraud)

I haven’t paid much attention to the Farm Bill.  Basically I know that is an amazingly inefficient boondoggle, but that we’re pretty much stuck with it.  What I had not realized is that is also a source of food welfare for poor people.  And Republicans are having none of that.  Yglesias:

Take a minute if you will to savor the gory details of the farm bill the U.S. House of Representatives is passing this year. It sharply cuts the SNAP program that gives money to poor people so they can buy food but preserves ample funds to subsidize American farmers.

There’s not a ton to be said about this, but suffice it to say that farmers have higher incomes than the average American while SNAP recipients have lower incomes than the average American. So basically instead of having the federal government redistribute income to the poor, the House farm bill will redistribute tax dollars to the wealthy. It’s outrageous.

Yep, though as it turns out the House failed to pass the bill yesterday because Democrats who rejected the SNAP cuts were joined by Conservative Republicans (presumably from non-agricultural areas) who actually seemed to have rejected government money going to rich farmers.  

That said, I get so tired of this kind of stupid, stupid rhetoric from Republicans:

But some Republicans countered that the cuts and other changes to the program were about fraud, not about cutting off people who really need food assistance.

“We don’t want people gaming the system,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa. Mr. King said he had heard of cases in which tattoo parlors advertise that they take food stamps as payment, and another of a person bailing himself out of jail using his food stamps benefits card. Agriculture Department officials say those cases are unlikely because stores that take the benefits have to be approved by the agency.

When you have programs with human beings you will have fraud.  Period.  Of course we should always try to reduce fraud where possible (but certainly not by spending more on enforcement costs than the cost of the fraud), but this universal excuse of “oh, we’re not cutting needed government programs, just fraud” is breathtakingly intellectually dishonest.  

Until we are a nation of cyborgs, there will be fraud in all government programs.  You can take the view of a liberal and hope to limit the fraud, but accept that it is a necessary cost of helping the genuinely needy or you can be a conservative and decide that fraud is so awful that you will under go the cost of truly legitimately needy not getting the help they need.  Those are you two choices.  That’s it.  I know which I pick.  

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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