Fox News watchers are up in arms about a recent segment featuring Jason Greenslate, a Californian who spends his days drinking, surfing, and living the apparent good life thanks to American taxpayers. Mr. Greenslate receives SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits amounting to around $200 per month, and he bragged to the Fox News cameras that his “free food” was lobster and sushi.
Let the wild rumpus start.
Like sharks fighting over a bucket of bloody chum, legislators who were already itching to vote for a reduction in SNAP benefits began chomping on this story. It’s like the icing on the cake celebrating the marriage of ignorance and heartlessness. They claim that reducing benefits will simply take from those who don’t need or deserve any help, like Mr. Greenslate.
After all, doesn’t he embody everything that’s wrong with this country?
Nah. I’m not so worked up about this. And here’s why:
It’s a free country; he can do what he wants with his SNAP benefits.
Stop fanning yourself with your monogrammed hankie and hear me out. You might not like his choices, but he didn’t commit fraud. He qualified for the program fair and square, as far as we know. He’s playing by the rules, whether we like them or not.
“But shouldn’t there be rules against this?” wails the collective right.
Be careful what you wish for, oh Lovers-of-Small-Government. More rules means more oversight, more bureaucracy, and more government employees on the payroll. Making welfare recipients take drug tests in order to receive benefits is currently VERY popular (at least 29 states have proposed laws to require this) – states claim they will SAVE MONEY because they’ll no longer have to support lazy drug users living the high life on the taxpayer dole. Right?
It turns out that administering the tests is expensive, and most welfare recipients don’t actually use drugs. Just ask Utah, which spent $30,000 in the past year to find 12 people who failed the drug test.
Similar results in Florida. Only 2.6% of welfare applicants tested positive for drug use, compared with 8% of people found to use drugs in any given month based on national surveys.
Relax – Mr. Greenslate is not your typical SNAP recipient.
It might be easy to fool Fox News watchers (and apparently, our elected leaders in congress) into believing that anecdotes are a fabulous substitute for data, but we know differently, don’t we?
Typical SNAP recipients live in households that earn less than 130% of the Federal Poverty Level. 30% are employed and most of the rest are elderly, children, or disabled.
And while I couldn’t find the data on this, I’m pretty sure they don’t eat lobster very often. Many don’t even own a surfboard!
But hey – if our leaders in congress think making policy based on anecdotal outliers is a good idea, I have some thoughts. Serious vehicle accidents are more likely at high speeds, so highway speed limits should be capped at 25 mph. The US Post Office occasionally damages mail, so shouldn’t each and every item get hand-delivered by a courier? And let’s not allow men to buy guns because they are responsible for nearly all gun crimes (oh, wait, that’s actual data…my bad.).
Sushi – eater or not, Mr. Greenslate still deserves my compassion.
I wouldn’t want to change places with him. He’s obviously bad at budgeting ($200 a month and this is what he spends on a meal?) and he’s homeless. The Fox News segment doesn’t present him as a very sympathetic character, but if you listen closely you learn that he is employed (they don’t say where), he just doesn’t earn enough to buy his own groceries. Does that sound like the good life?
The poor are people, too.
That means they aren’t perfect. Just like the rich (and the middle class, and anyone else we care to categorize), they make mistakes. Humans are like that. Mr. Greenslate may have decided to splurge at an inopportune time, but he will live with the consequences (probably by eating Ramen noodles for the rest of the week). For every hard-working single mother in the projects who beats the odds and raises her daughter to become a neurosurgeon, there is an average person who has average luck and makes both good and bad choices. He still deserves to eat.
Even lobster and sushi once in a while, if he chooses. It’s a free country.