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Food Stamps


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Slate recently wrote a three-part series on food stamps and their effect on the economy, focusing mainly on the state of Ohio. They explored how huge corporations like Walmart and Dollar General pay such low wages, a big percentage of their workforce has no choice but to go on food stamps, all the while posting incredible profit margins that are a bit head-scratching. Can big companies afford to pay their workers more, or are employees destined to stay on food stamps forever?

Part One: The Secret Life of a Food Stamp

In this piece, which went online on April 1st, 2014, writer Krissy Clark took a look at the secrecy surrounding how food stamps are used by corporations. She made the good point of writing that while debates about the worthiness of food stamps — and its recipients — are constantly in the headlines, one topic that flies well beneath the radar is what actually happens to the food stamps once they leave a person’s card.

Once food stamps are spent at a particular store, that store makes a profit on them. But what’s unknown — with retailers fighting hard to keep that information confidential — is what they do with the profits, how many food stamps dollars they receive, and what happens to people’s tax dollars. Clark includes an interesting quote from Walmart communications vice president David Tovar: “We don’t provide our market-share data on any categories like that — it’s generally proprietary in nature.” What Tovar apparently doesn’t say is it’s only proprietary in nature when it suits them.

Part Two: Save Money. Live Better

Tovar is quoted again in the second part of the series (which focuses on the circumstances forcing people into the SNAP program) as he says, apparently with no notice for the irony lacing his words, “We would love nothing more than a day when we didn’t have to have programs like [SNAP]. But for now, with the economy the way it is, with customers continuing to struggle the way they are, I think it’s really important to be able to help people along the way.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Tovar’s not on food stamps himself, and therefore far removed from the harsh realities that the program’s recipients face on a daily basis. But regardless of his income level and standard of living, it’s both patronizing and insulting for him to want “nothing more than a day when we didn’t have to have programs like [SNAP].” Walmart is one of the largest employers in the country, and the largest in Ohio, and it can very easily take steps towards eliminating that problem. When a company’s profits are in the billions each year, there’s simply no excuse for paying your workers a sub-living wage.

Part Three: Hungry for Savings

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The series wraps up with this piece, and it’s no easier to read than the previous two. Clark writes about how Walmart (and other monster-sized corporations) get involved with food banks and other similar projects…yet still don’t raise their wages to a liveable standard. It’s a glaring disconnect between what the company says and what it actually does, and it doesn’t quite feel like Walmart walks the walk it talks.

To be clear, Walmart doesn’t just sit idly by on the sidelines and rubs its hands together gleefully at the poverty it’s placed its workers into. They donate food to food banks (that its workers frequent), and are currently “discussing the minimum wage” and “the effect it would have on its business.” But from an observer’s perspective, it’s quite difficult to align their supposed efforts with their actual actions, as they continue to trot out some of the lowest prices — and wages — in the country.

While the food stamps program undoubtedly benefits millions of Americans, when one-seventh of its population uses them, it points to a much bigger problem. It’s one of corporations allow to run free and loose with their profits, while those on the other end continue to suffer in silence.

For the full three-part series, click here to read it.


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