Sunday, April 23, 2017

SNAP benefits reduce hunger, but what about cash assistance?

Student considers the problem that SNAP does not give poor people cash they may need for expenses outside of food.

I have decided to write my first reaction paper about the social welfare polity SNAP. It’s been talked about quite a bit lately in class and it has also been brought up in our book “$2 a Day”. Personally, I think that SNAP is a good thing, and it significantly helps out families in need. Without it, we would have many more hungry families and children. People who qualify for SNAP can use their access cash on rent or clothes, rather than on food. When used correctly and efficiently, SNAP can help provide food for those who are struggling. 

I do though still question a few things with SNAP. I hear a lot of people talk about how hard it is to qualify for the benefits. There are pretty strict guidelines that have to be met before an individual will receive the card. I do realize that there needs to be a minimum income that one needs to make in order to qualify, but if that minimum is too low, those who are just barely making more than that will not receive the SNAP. They are still struggling to feed their family, clothe their family, pay rent and bills, find day care, and get too and from work…that is if they have a job. I feel like more than income and mouths fed should be looked into. Possibly if they are getting any other government assistance, or if they have supportive family members. 

One thing that has really caught my attention lately about SNAP are the consequences that come with people trading SNAP money for real cash. Why is it so illegal with such terrible punishments for someone who gets caught trying to obtain cash in exchange for groceries? I read that the penalty is up to $250,000 or 20 years in prison or both for someone who is convicted of committing this act. Who exactly will be helped by these punishments? From what dark soul comes the morality that would impose such a penalty for this particular crime? Do we actually expect the people who are already qualifying for government assistance and are begging for cash to be able to pay $250,000? Okay, so they can’t pay the money, but putting them in jail for up to twenty years isn’t a reasonable punishment, either. 

Chances are, being put in jail could be some of the best living arrangements some people have seen in a long time. They will have a constant roof over their head, food every day, a bed to sleep in, people to interact with, and even cable TV to watch! Also, what will happen to kids who parents are put in jail? Will they be put into DCFS custody? If so, they are back under the care of the government, which is exactly what SNAP was going to do in the first place. Even with these warnings of trading SNAP, people will find ways to rig the system. It’s not like these people are wanting to break the law, they are just trying to survive. Yes, SNAP will help them survive…to an extent. SNAP will only help pay for food, but what about all of the other expenses of living? By trading $100 in groceries for $60 in cash, there will be an extra $60 in the pocket. Cash equals flexibility, which equals the option to buy clothes for interviews, transportation to jobs, water for showers, or to pay rent. 

Could there be an option to split SNAP benefits onto the card and also cash in hand? I realize that TANF is another option that someone can qualify for, and that is also cash assistance, but if a person is trying to trade SNAP for cash, they may not quality for the TANF option, making them try to find other ways to get cash. So, is there a way that those who get SNAP can get some of that paid in cash? For example, if a mom gets $500 in SNAP could she have the option for receiving $100 in cash and $400 on the SNAP card? This way, she is still being forced to use $400 dollars on groceries, the main purpose of SNAP, but still have $100 to use on other expenses to keep her family as healthy as possible. Some may argue that the $100 will be wasted on something useless, but if someone is struggling enough to ask for help then chances are they are not going to blow it. The people who NEED the assistance will not abuse it.

I do not think there are many persons who would choose incarceration over living freely in poverty while homeless and hungry, but I agree that there must be a few.  But jails are not a reasonable place to put such persons: we must have places that ensure people are protected from the weather and given reasonable meals so that everyone can live in dignity: it is a violation of human rights to allow people to remain homeless.

For cash assistance, we have TANF, but that provides little, and is difficult to get.  In Illinois a township may give some General Relief cash assistance, but that is also not for everyone, and is extremely modest.  The Earned Income Tax Credit offers cash to people, but you must be employed to receive it.  If you have poor and have hardly any assets, and you are disabled, then you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is more generous than TANF anyway, but is only for persons with serious disabilities that prevent them from working. Those are the main sources of cash assistance.  We are a bit better in giving people Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, since it would be especially mortifying if Americans were literally starving, and the agricultural industry profits by the extra demand for their products.  I agree that we face a problem when people only have food assistance, but don’t receive any cash assistance.  

Providing a guaranteed minimum income to everyone would solve this problem. 

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