We know that today’s page 1A story on the escalation in the use of food stamps in Robeson County will provoke a lot of indignation among people convinced their labor is feeding lazy no-goods who are abusing the system and are allergic to work.
There will be plenty of finger pointing at President Obama, who has loosened the restrictions on food stamps, which has led to a national expansion of the program and an increase in Robeson County of about 85 percent since he took office. Critics will say that Obama is fostering dependence, in part so that he can depend on food-stamp recipients voting for him in November so the free-for-almost-all can continue.
And some of that is fair.
It is shameful that Robeson County is projected to receive $77 million in food stamps this year — about $600 a year per person. The stigma isn’t denied, which explains why the government years ago replaced food-stamp coupons with EBT cards that resemble credit cards, meaning fewer people rolling their eyes and casting judgment at the check-out counter of the grocery store.
But only a simple mind, one incapable of nuance, would conclude that the problem is only laziness, and that it would evaporate if people would just get to work.
There is so much conspiring against us — the size of the county, 134,000 residents, ranking us 23rd in the state; our unemployment rate of 13.9 percent, the sixth highest in the state; the fact that so many of our residents work in tourism-related jobs, which don’t pay much and offer few if any benefits, meaning people who do work still need help; and our unwillingness to embrace education, a cultural malady with roots in the reality that so many of our ancestors in a county that is two-thirds minority didn’t value what they were historically denied. That list could grow from there, but space prevents it.
Don’t conclude that just because you aren’t eligible for food stamps that you don’t benefit from their explosion in this county. The $77 million that will pour into this county this year makes food stamps one of our most important industries. Those dollars will have an economic effect of about $150 million this year, meaning jobs, firstly at grocery stories, of which there is no local shortage, and then growing outward from there.
We don’t deny the abuse of the system, people who can work but don’t, people who trade their food stamps for alcohol or drugs, people who can’t afford food but find the money for tattoos, cigarettes and video games. But in this case, perception is just a small slice of reality.
The system isn’t perfect. Why, as one of many examples, can a food-stamp recipient walk into a grocery story and buy a prepared cake instead of the necessary ingredients at a third the cost to make their own? And why do some people on food stamps qualify to receive government-subsidized cell phones? These things rightly provoke outrage.
But those who abuse this country’s benevolence are the minority, and the real face of a person who depends on food stamps is someone struggling in the nation’s worst economy in 75 years and has hungry children to feed. Part of this nation’s greatness continues to be our willingness to help our neighbors through troubled waters.