According to the White House, the rising tide of food stamp recipients is a blessing for the American economy. The latest data from the Agriculture Department show a record 45.753 million Americans receiving Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) payments, up 2.5% from the previous month. But to the Obama administration having 15% of the population on the government food dole is a godsend. “When you talk about the SNAP program or the food stamp program,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said this week, “you have to recognize that it’s also an economic stimulus. Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity. If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It’s the most direct stimulus you can get in the economy during these tough times.”
An 84% return on investment from food stamps makes them more profitable than any of the Obama administration’s many big government initiatives. If only the stimulus program had given the economy that kind of boost. Hopefully even greater numbers of Americans will be forced onto food stamps to feed their families; ideally all of them. But the fact is that any dollar spent on food would create the same effects Mr. Vilsack is idealizing. The difference between a government-supplied food stamp and a privately-earned dollar is that the food stamp is backed by borrowed money that adds to the debt that is both crushing the economy and depressing future earning potential for those Americans lucky enough to actually have jobs.
Yet the Obama administration views economic activity completely through the lens of government spending. Last week TRR reported on the paradoxical White House belief that unemployment payments drive job growth in the economy. This week the Labor Department reported that 408,000 unemployment claims were filed in the week ended Aug. 13, up 9,000 from the previous week. Presumably this is good news, because it will mean more unemployment benefits being paid, more government-supplied money being spent, and (somehow) more jobs created. The newly unemployed may also go on food stamps, which would compound the magical effects of government largesse. The higher the unemployment rate goes and the greater the percentage of Americans on food stamps, the more borrowed money the Federal government can spend. By White House logic this rising tide of misery and debt should stimulate the faltering economy into a roaring recovery. And if it doesn’t happen soon, America will be “blessed” with even more unemployed workers and food stamp recipients. In Mr. Obama’s world this apparently qualifies as successful stewardship of the economy, which explains a lot.