Regular readers of my writings over the years are well aware that I began life as a Democrat, as were my parents, then as a young adult I segued into being a Chamber-of-Commerce-type Republican.
This status was still in force when I voted for George W. Bush in his first run for the presidency, an act for which I have been heartily ashamed since that time.
As I've, hmm, matured, much of my thinking has veered somewhat more toward a liberal view of things, but I still retain a great many of my conservative leanings. That's why I could never be one of those rabidly partisan persons such as those who now inhabit and control both major parties in the United States. I'm cursed with often being able to see some good and some bad on both sides of any given debate.
All that being said, my conservative side really gets steamed whenever I consider the matter of food stamps, many of the related welfare programs, and the established and ongoing abuse of all of them.
A couple of decades ago (seems like only yesterday!), I served on the board of the local Salvation Army, which was quite active in Rush County at the time. My service didn't just consist of attending board meetings Ñ I also spent time at the Army headquarters boxing foodstuffs for distribution. In the beginning I had a really good feeling about this activity until I learned that the majority of the people receiving the free stuff were generational welfare recipients.
In these families, each ensuing generation was brought up to expect this free stuff as their due, and if the goods they received didn't suit them, they raised cain about it. I also learned that most of the free-loaders were at least reasonably healthy and able enough to hold some sort of job, but they chose not to, never having developed a work ethic.
That's when I quit hurting my back filling boxes with canned goods and resigned from the Salvation Army.
(My all-time favorite Letter to the Editor was sent to the Rushville Republican prior to the Christmas holiday. The female writer complained vociferously and bitterly that her free Christmas food basket had for many years contained a turkey, but this year it only had a chicken!)
The subject of welfare and its abuse, admittedly a sore topic for me, was aroused afresh by an article in the Indianapolis Star entitled, "Food stamp use spurs healthy debate."
The following paragraphs in quotation marks are lifted in entirety from the story, originally published in the Chicago Tribune:
"CHICAGO Ñ On a steamy weekend, customers at a discount grocery store in Evanston, Ill., loaded their carts with bags of chips, boxes of cookies, 2-liter soda bottles and jugs of fruit punch, among other items Ñ then paid for it all with food stamp credit."
"Although some people may be surprised to see Ônutrition assistance' dollars going to buy food with little nutritional value, it's perfectly legal under federal rules."
"Some politicians and health advocates want that to change, saying restricting food stamp purchases to healthier items would encourage better diets, reduce health-care costs and make better use of precious tax dollars."
"Critics of the idea say such proposals are condescending, probably wouldn't be effective and would stigmatize aid recipients."
There's more detail to the story, but the above states the case well enough. I consider it a national scandal of the first order that millions of welfare dollars are spent on junk food and that the same people line up week after week at various food pantries to pick up boxes of free groceries and other items. Repeat habitual offenders, I call Ôem.
While not considering myself to be without compassion, I'm really not too concerned nor worried about stiffer rules being "condescending to welfare recipients" or if some feel they would be "stigmatized." Most of those recipients have thick hides and if they were in some manner condescended to or stigmatized, they wouldn't realize it and if they did they wouldn't give it a second thought.
I was behind two obese women in a checkout lane at our leading grocery store a few days ago. Unable to avoid hearing their conversation with the clerk, I learned that the pair were a mother and daughter (the daughter being the one with all the tattoos).
The mother proudly announced that the daughter was "pregnant with twins."
When the mother's purchases were totaled, she produced a white check-like document, which I learned was a WIC Check. She signed her name and was away scot free. Next up was the daughter. She, in turn, whipped out her own WIC Check and her purchases were paid for.
It crossed my mind that more than likely the unborn twins being carried by the daughter would also spend a lifetime on welfare of all sorts, thereby continuing an endless cycle.
(I did some research on WIC (Women, Infants, Children) and found the rules to be somewhat complex, but not all that difficult to understand; also, apparently not all that difficult to circumvent. I invite you to look them up yourself.)
I don't think I am hard-hearted. I love the idea of truly needy people getting assistance, just like I enjoy seeing an actual handicapped person using a handicap parking space, but I recognize and abhor the fact that vast numbers of people are gaming the system, freeloading at taxpayer expense, and doing it generation after generation.
Countless massive tomes have been written about the problem of aiding those in need while at the same time eliminating crookery, so one should not expect this brief letter to entirely cover the matter; nor will it lead to a solution which has eluded many bright minds not to mention not-so-bright government bureaucrats, so I'll just close by simply saying, "Cheating is cheating, my friends," and I don't like it.
Norman D. Voiles
Resident of Rush County; native of Decatur County
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