Junk food or Junk reform? Letting it all hang out-

As I said so poorly in my introductory post (who knew writing about myself and my philosophies could be so hard), I have perspectives that can offend liberals and conservative alike.

And, my kids, friends, former students, and loved ones would tell you there are these “oh, snap” moments when my half-white/raised-white side disappears, and I become that stereotypical finger-pointing, head-bobbing black woman— hand on the hip, nostrils flaring and all. The subject of welfare reform never fails to bring out the worst of these two Trish-isms.

So, before my head starts bobbing— I can’t exactly point my finger and put my hand on my hip while typing— I want to precede the following rant by saying I mean no disrespect the wonderful, intelligent people who make up our Legislature. I can only guess that what qualifies as welfare reform policy is being dictated by national party platforms, so they have to work with what they have.

With that said— head starts bobbing, nostrils start twitching here— banning junk food is not welfare reform. Banning junk food may be surface level, feel good about passing judgment change, but it offers nothing substantive in terms of cost savings and improved outcomes from our social service programs.

On what do I base this conclusion? Years of personal and professional experience. I was born into the social service system as a ward of the state of Michigan; I am ashamed to admit I have received food stamps at times as a working adult with children; and I have worked professionally in the social service field.

Because of my experience, I have a long laundry list of concerns related to the social service arena and “welfare reform.” The infamous “Red Bull” purchase– a questionable choice in a system that perpetuates questionable choices–is not on this list.

Because of my experience, I am a fiscal conservative. I know how far I have stretched a dollar, and I think government and its contractors could do a little of the same. But even as a fiscal conservative, that “Red Bull” purchase still isn’t on my list.

Do I think people should buy “Red Bull” with SNAP benefits? Heck no. I don’t think anyone should be buying “Red Bull” with cash, either because I am one of those healthy, preferably organic food people. But then again I smoke a half dozen chemical free tobacco home-rolls a day, so who am I to judge? We all know vice.

What is on my reform list? Since this is a blog post and not a dissertation, I’ll start with the necessity of getting profitable, public corporations off welfare. I am not talking about tax loopholes; I mean actual welfare.

Welfare payment #1: Employment cost subsidy – In Maine 45-48% of welfare goes to working recipients, depending on the program. It’s 52-56% nationally.  Some big box retail outlets are among the employers known for underpaying employees who then qualify for SNAP benefits and Medicaid.

Welfare payment #2: SNAP benefits – If the big box store sells groceries, guess where these employees spend their SNAP allotment?

Welfare payment #3: Employment cost subsidy – Many of these employees also qualify for the Earned Income Credit from the federal government. This program is designed to supplement incomes that are not sufficient to cover basic costs. Freely translated, it’s another employment cost subsidy that enables more money to go to shareholders. Why pay employees if the government will?

Welfare payment #4: So shameless it’s nameless – It’s not a leap to think these employees spend some portion of their Earned Income Credits where they work.

Now, imagine being one of those employees. You’re working a long forty plus hour week, but no matter how hard you work, it’s just not enough to pay the bills. At the end of your shift, you call home and find out one of your children aced a test that had been causing worry.

You think it would be nice to grab him a candy bar for a reward before you leave, but payday is tomorrow, you’re out of cash, and all you have is your EBT card. Too bad, the Maine State Legislature might just decide that poor kids don’t deserve those kind of rewards. Someone you don’t know bought some “Red Bull,” and the Legislature may decide a junk food ban is the best way to teach people to make better choices and reform welfare.

Never mind the high cost of healthy food.  Never mind the stagnant wages, high property taxes, high energy and housing costs that are contributing to financial insecurity. Forget about things like provider and client accountability, quality of services, types of services, billing, etc.

It’s all about the “Bull.”

Patricia Callahan

About Patricia Callahan

Trish is a writer who lives in Augusta. She has worked professionally in education and social services.