Big Businesses That Benefit From Food Stamps

Yglesias poses a provocative question: “Why give poor people grocery vouchers when it would be simpler, easier, cheaper, and more helpful to give them money instead?”

[L]egally restricting SNAP benefits to apply only to grocery purchases is weirdly punitive to the thrifty. Want to dine on lentils and brown rice for six months to save up money for car repairs? Well, you’re out of luck. Unless, that is, you come up with some scam to trade your extra benefits for money. The poor can end up either condemned for irresponsibility or condemned for fraud.

The only real winners from focusing this keystone anti-poverty program on groceries are agribusiness interests. As long as those interests were delivering the goods – in the form of conservative votes for spending money on the poor – that was a reasonable enough compromise. But now that today’s more partisan Republicans aren’t interested in the deal, it’s time for liberals to scrap it, too.

Food industry groups are keeping quiet about the cuts:

Although all grocery stores and supermarkets that accept SNAP payments – there are more than 231,000 stores nationwide – stand to benefit extremely from continued SNAP funding, many of the same organizations are large Republican Party backers. …

[For example,] General Mills, the parent company of Betty Crocker, Yoplait and Pillsbury, among others, has spent more money on Republican candidates than Democratic candidates in every election cycle between 1990 and 2012. The National Grocers Association lobby spent $23,800 on Republican house members in 2012, and $4,000 on Democratic candidates.

The grocer associations and food companies face a political conundrum. They can advocate publicly for businesses benefitting from SNAP funding, and thus ally themselves with the White House and liberal advocacy groups against Washington Republicans. Or they can stay mum on the topic and continue to back Republicans who generally support their agenda on trade, labor, tax, and regulatory issues.

Carmel LoBello offers a theory for Big Grocery’s reticence:

Another reason may be that the bill isn’t expected to get very far in the Senate – and even if it somehow did, Obama would likely veto it – so businesses can keep their hands clean and appear politically consistent without any risk to their bottom lines.

Recent Dish on food stamp cuts here and here.