The Poverty Scam In Action: Tom Vilsack

In the weekend edition, the Wall Street Journal gave Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack space on the op-ed page to defend the food stamp program, aka SNAP, against Republican efforts to turn it into block grants to the states.  It is remarkable to me that the Wall Street Journal would allow their pages to be used for government deception at this level.

In the federal pantheon of programs, the food stamp program has a role that is literally magical.  When the government wants to claim that there is lots of poverty in the country in order to sell the people on more "anti-poverty" spending, then food stamps don't count in the measure of poverty.  (Food stamps are defined as an "in-kind" benefit that the Census Bureau omits entirely in determining the official "cash income" measure of poverty.)  When the government wants to claim that there is lots of "hunger" in the country in order to sell the people on more government spending to combat "hunger," it designs a survey that completely ignores food stamps.  (The government's annual "food insecurity" surveys -- often cited by people including President Obama as measuring "hunger" -- are specifically designed to obtain the answer of "I felt food insecure" from food stamp recipients.)

So we now find ourselves in a position where we spend $80 billion per year on the food stamp program, only have poverty by the official definition not budge at all, and the number of people feeling "food insecure" not budge at all.  Actually, that was the whole idea -- if the program dramatically reduced measured poverty and food insecurity, people might think that those problems had been solved, and the political support for continued spending increases could dry up.  Still, you would think that these people would have some shame about their failure.  How is it even conceivable that we spend $80 billion per year on a food-for-the-poor program that has exactly zero effect on reducing measured poverty and food insecurity?  But if you think they would have some shame, you just don't understand how government works.

As Secretary of Agriculture, Vilsack not only runs the food stamp program, he also is in charge of the annual "food insecurity" surveys that prove that his $80 billion program has no effect whatsoever in improving the chosen metric.  So, Tom, what's your defense?

SNAP continues to reduce poverty. . . .   More than 4.8 million Americans, including 2.1 million children, are lifted out of poverty when SNAP benefits are counted as income. . . .  Rather than arbitrarily taking a budget axe to a program with a proven record of effectiveness and declining costs, common sense tells us that we should instead be working together to put those SNAP recipients who can work back to work.

Did you catch where he snuck in there that SNAP reduces poverty "when SNAP benefits are counted as income"?  Except, Tom, that SNAP benefits are not counted as income when the Census Bureau measures poverty.  Have you asked them to change their methodology?  And can't you be honest with us and tell us that the success you are claiming is actually not shown at all in the official government poverty numbers?

And you have to admire the brazenness of his describing SNAP as "a program with a proven record of effectiveness."  By the principal metrics that the government provides, namely the official poverty and "food insecurity" rates, SNAP is literally the most ineffective use of money that it is possible to imagine.  $80 billion per year and neither metric ever budges or ever will budge, even if spending is doubled.