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Unprincipled, Part 3

October 4, 2012

This is an examination of the question whether money – particularly in the form of government assistance programs supported by tax dollars – should be set aside for the needy, in the knowledge that an unprincipled few will attempt to cheat the system.

The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly “Food Stamps”, is our case study, for this purpose.

The moral duty and various rationales for aid were set out in Parts 1 and 2 of this series.

Fraud

Philosophic questions aside, the first difficulty lies in keeping cheats off the rolls; the second, in catching them; the third, in penalizing them sufficiently to dissuade others from attempting to defraud the system. Each of these has an associated cost.

If we do set up a system that provides financial assistance to destitute children, how do we keep shirker parents from accessing the funds, logistically speaking? What about parents who work 18 hours a day or two jobs to put food on the table, and give their children a better life? Is it “fair” to those parents that we use their tax dollars to support the children of cheats?

There are no cut-and-dried answers. Fairness would depend on the number of such cheats, eligibility for the assistance program by struggling parents, and tax equity respecting the cost of the assistance program. Sadly, a focus on cheats is often used to distract from the issue of tax equity.

The sale of SNAP benefits for cash (“trafficking”) is an illegal activity punishable by disqualification from the program, fines, and criminal prosecution. Over the last 15 years, the Food and Nutrition Service has reduced trafficking in SNAP from 4% to 1%.

Addicts

Much of the time, addicts are lost in a world of their own. However, methamphetamine addicts have been closely associated with identity theft. Are we to view addicts as expendable?

As of this writing, warrantless drug testing is still unconstitutional (violating the Fourth Amendment).

Drug testing by the states has not, in any case, proven cost effective. Only about 2.5% of the first 2000 applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) actually tested positive in Florida after the state law authorizing drug testing went into effect in July 2011. This compares favorably with the 6% of Americans aged 12 or older the Justice Department estimates use illegal drugs.

Some argue for the legalization of all (or certain “recreational”) drugs. Christians view drugs as linked with the occult. The argument is, however, made that legalizing drugs would eliminate much of drug related crime, and reduce the population in our jails. Money saved could, theoretically, be put toward rehabilitation. The public would exchange the cost of crime for the cost of drugs, and gain productive citizens in the process. What would incentivize rehabilitation is uncertain.

Waste

Since waste is frequently discussed along with fraud, it is worth noting that SNAP delivers benefits with a high degree of accuracy. More than 98% of participating households are eligible for the program. In 2010, the overpayment error rate was less than 3.05%; the underpayment error rate, less than 1%.

No Answer, Except Christ

There is no perfect solution to the cheating dilemma. This is a broken world, which is exactly why we need a Savior.

Some recipients of aid may be frauds, grifters. They may cheat the system of benefits to which others would be entitled or spend whatever money they receive on alcohol or drugs. That is a choice for which they will be held accountable.

It is not justification for withholding aid from those in need. To do that would make us unprincipled, ourselves.

Whatever the outcome of our attempts at assistance, when we act in accord with conscience God knows our intentions. That is what really matters.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble; may the name of the God of Jacob defend you…” (Ps. 20: 1).

READERS CAN FIND MY VIEWS ON ABUSE AND ABUSE-RELATED ISSUES AT ANNA WALDHERR A Voice Reclaimed, Surviving Child Abuse http://www.avoicereclaimed

One Comment
  1. I agree those who defraud the government of SNAP benefits should be penalized to the fullest extent of the law. I also believe it is the amount of benefits some household receive that enables them to commit such fraud. A known family of four children and one adult received 600$ monthly of those benefits. One of the children does not live with the mother. Does it cost 600$ a month to feed three small children and one adult? Another known family of one child and one adult received only 23$. Surely it takes less than 600$ and more than 23$ to reasonably feed these families. Excessive and inadequate payment amounts are the leading causes of fraud. One family sells because they have too many while the other buys because they don’t have enough. These cases are far more common than the reported narcotics and other items derived fraud. Identifying the problems aren’t nearly as difficult as proposing and implementing solutions.

    What’s could the country do? Distribute the amounts more equally. ACTUALLY IMPOSE FINES, DISQUALIFICATIONS, ETC. Most don’t believe they will get caught. Create jobs that would allow more monitoring of household spending. Make it mandatory to show ID to make purchases. I don’t have all the answers, and I will not pretend to, but I think suggestions are the beginning to them.

    Rx2

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