Monday, January 18, 2010

Portrait of Hunger, With Bluetooth

Last week an undersecretary in the Department of Agriculture came to Texas and declared that the state has, according to a report in the Jan. 13 Houston Chronicle, “the worst performing food stamp program in the nation.” What he meant, basically, was that Texas should eliminate its requirements that food-stamp applicants undergo fingerprinting and fill out what the newspaper described as a “time consuming and complicated assets test” so that applications can be processed faster and more people can be eligible for government-subsidized victuals. “If I were a native son sitting down here, I would be very upset that my state was not the leader it is capable of being,” said the undersecretary, who obviously is not a native son sitting down here.

Upon reading this our first thought was, “This undersecretary must be an undercover operative for Rick Perry’s re-election campaign.” Our second thought was, “If I were a Republican, and I’m not, I’d make sure this undersecretary’s statement was stapled to the behinds of Bill White (or, maybe, Farouk Shami) and Ronnie Earle (or, maybe, whoever) to see how far they can run with it.” (By the way, does White have a position on this? We searched high and low on his Web site and even his Facebook page and can find none. Perhaps his position is too, too nuanced and complicated to be explained in a coherent and logical fashion––like Kay Bailey Hutchison’s position on maintaining Roe v. Wade.* Personally, we have no problem with expanding food-stamp availability, temporarily and if necessary, although we see nothing whatsoever wrong with requiring applicants to undergo some semi-foolproof methods of identification confirmation and means-testing.)

Sure as the hack tunesmiths of Tin Pan Alley were once moved to reflexively rhyme “moon” with “June” came the Whole Foods shoppers-cum-hunger artists (or artiste), of the Chronicle editorial page, who on Sunday past once again ascended to that Upper West Side of the mind to look down their long, thin noses at Texas and declare “Shame on us: Texas is the worst state in the nation providing food assistance to the hungry.” The hungry? Since when is not being able to immediately acquire food stamps synonymous with “hunger”? (That groaning noise was Orwell, rolling over in his grave while trying to light a cigarette.) The editorial predictably called for doing away with the fingerprinting and means-testing procedures, requirements designed to hold down, if not fully eliminate fraud. “To have so many Texans going hungry should be unacceptable in this proud and walthy state of ours,” harrumphed the editorial, which for some reason did not include the usual routine mention of Children at Risk, the Bob Stein of local social-service lobbyist organizations.

But some Chronicle readers reside in the real world, having no doubt stood in line at the grocery check-out behind overweight shoppers who used their Lone Star cards to buy all manner of unhealthy edibles and then whipped out a wad of cash to pay for the beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. (It happens, although we personally have never seen it at Whole Foods or Central Market). Next to the Sunday editorial the newspaper published a letter from one of those readers, a Sarah Gonzales, who, when it came to insight, logic and pith, had it all over the writer of the editorial:
I would like to suggest that if the Chronicle was attempting to garner sympathy for those who are facing challenges receiving food stamps, perhaps a better picture could have been chosen to accompany the story. Of the three people pictured standing in line to receive food stamps, two of them are wearing Bluetooth devices. If I was having difficulty feeding my family or myself, the latest in cell phone technology would not be a priority for my discretionary income.
We went back to examine the picture Ms. Gonzales cited, and, sure enough, two of the three (that’s 66 percent) visible would-be food-stamp applicants had those noisome little phone devices in their ears. Perhaps Ms. Gonzales was too polite to mention it, but we’re not: None of the three looked to have missed too many meals lately. You could, in fact, politely describe them as overfed.

On the same day the paper ran its editorial its front page carried a striking Associated Press picture from Haiti that illustrated what real hunger looks like. It did not look like fat people standing leisurely in line while chatting on their Bluetooths (or Blueteeth?).

So tell us: Where should the “shame” really lie?

*In the interest of disclosure, we, like Hutchison, favor maintaining Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to an abortion. We also favor maintaining the death penalty. You might say that we are, in the currently degraded political parlance, pro-death.

8 comments:

Robert Boyd said...

"But some Chronicle readers reside in the real world, having no doubt stood in line at the grocery check-out behind overweight shoppers who used their Lone Star cards to buy all manner of unhealthy edibles and then whipped out a wad of cash to pay for the beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets."

This suggests that the state's lengthy anti-fraud efforts (which presumably cause both the truly needed and the merely faking it to wait equally long periods of time) don't work in the first place. So why bother (except perhaps as a bit of conservative hard-ass theater).

Slampo said...

There's nothing illegal or fraudulent about a food-stamp recipient using his or her hard-earned or not-so-hard-earned cash to to cover their entertainment needs, including cigarettes. It does, however, bring into question that recipient's priorities, as Ms. Gonzales the letter-writer put it in a slightly different context.

What I was saying, or what I was trying to say, is that such scenes, when witnessed by fellow shoppers/taxpayers at the Food-a-Rama, makes said shoppers/taxpayers dubious of the boo-hoo stories floated by political types or social-service workers with a personal stake in the matter, the same way that the picture of food-stamp applicants with their Bluetooths led Ms. Gonzales to express her (justified) skepticism of these would-be recipients' priorities.

For the record, I was not a theater major.

The Fishing Musician said...

SLAMPO said: "But some Chronicle readers reside in the real world, having no doubt stood in line at the grocery check-out behind overweight shoppers who used their Lone Star cards to buy all manner of unhealthy edibles and then whipped out a wad of cash to pay for the beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets. (It happens, although we personally have never seen it at Whole Foods or Central Market)."

Agree on the Whole Foods - Central Market statement. And I have seen a twentyish woman with numerous children of different races wearing a rock on her finger that I could never afford, driving an new Escalade, purchase tons of food with her lone star card and then pay for the rest of the groceries with crisp hundreds.

Pissed me off.

The Fishing Musician said...

Good commentary, and I never took you for a thespian anyway.

Jost said...

I have also witnessed folks abusing the Lone Star program.

But I can also remember what it was like to stand in line with my mom while she used food stamps to get our food for the week.

I can also remember what it was like to know that our only money was that welfare check that arrived in the mail.

I also can understand that while there are some frauds using the system, the system helps many many needy families.

Maybe we should think about the real fraud that is happening in this country and scream about that - the banks, the lobbyists, the healthcare industry!

Man, we are one spoiled country.

Robert Boyd said...

I wasn't suggesting that you were engaging in theater, but I think Rick Perry definitely is. It looks good in primary season to be seen as coming down hard on food stamp frauds. I say it's theater because I don't think the long wait times for food stamps really have anything to do with the state having an overriding concern for making sure that only the truly deserving get food stamps. I think the long wait times are most likely the result of a combination of underfunding, incompetence, and just not caring.

Slampo said...

"Man, we are one spoiled country."

I couldn't agree more, Jost.

"It looks good in primary season to be seen as coming down hard on food stamp frauds. I say it's theater because I don't think the long wait times for food stamps really have anything to do with the state having an overriding concern for making sure that only the truly deserving get food stamps. I think the long wait times are most likely the result of a combination of underfunding, incompetence, and just not caring."

Robert, if I can be so informal: Electioneering is pretty much a full-time preoccupation for politicians, and I think Perry has been relatively consistent on this matter. The reason he can make an issue of it (if he really is) is because it IS an issue with a lot of people who believe the hard science of their own eyes, like the lady who spotted the Bluetooth users, which I think all right-thinking people would agree JUST DOESN'T LOOK GOOD, wholly random representation of reality though it may be. If the Obama administration thinks sending a bureaucrat down here to holler about getting more people on food stamps is going to help Democrats in this election year, then the Texas Democratic Party is truly sunk and not about to rise anytime soon, even on that coming Big Brown Wave (supposed coming Big Brown Wave). Also: Perry shouldn't be dismissed out-of-hand for raising legitimate issues of state vs. federal powers, which have been debated in this country before it was a country. True, Perry doesn't have the inclination (lazy) or the intellectual heft to address them in any serious way, plus he, like all big-government Republicans, including Hutchison, is a stone hypocrite (didn't raise much of a fuss over No Child Left Behind, the largest federal encroachment into education since Sputnik began the federalization, nor did he raise a peep about the blatant Bush-Cheney abuses of constitutional authority, etc.), but it ought to be talked about.

And again, there's nothing inherently wrong with fingerprinting and means-testing food-stamp recipients, just like there's nothing inherently wrong with requiring a proffering of valid ID for voting purposes. (Hell, those supposed inconveniences seem like a real small price to pay for free food and democratic participation.) Over & out.

Kevin Whited said...

** I wasn't suggesting that you were engaging in theater, but I think Rick Perry definitely is. It looks good in primary season to be seen as coming down hard on food stamp frauds. **

The last time I checked, Rick Perry was not editor of the Chron (he's too tall for that job, and he's not even a tall guy). Yet it's the Chron pushing this food stamp business about as hard as they can (which, frankly, isn't that hard any more, since Jeff Cohen has had to lay so many people off). The coverage of the issue (Chron: OUTRAGE!) is what's new, not Rick Perry's approach to the issue(Regardless of what one thinks to his hard-line approach, or, as Slampo points out, the tendency of politicians to act like politicians).