An article in Salon this morning caught my attention. The author who grew up in Baltimore, in and around public housing, reported being very familiar with food stamps and how they are used. There were a couple of assertions that were startling; that the group most benefitting from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) are white men, and that those men were probably all in the 62% of white men who voted for Donald J. Trump in 2016.
Secondly, there is a move to cut SNAP in order to encourage the recipients to be more self-sufficient. Consequently, the MAGA (Make America Great Again) group will suffer most from the cut back.
Why is this surprising? First, since the presidency of Ronald Reagan there has been the idea out there that food stamps are all collected by “Welfare Queens”. Welfare Queens were portrayed as all black. Anyone who has ever been poor enough to have to choose between rent and food knows that that is not true, but for a certain segment of the population that was accepted as true.
As a young medical student at a state University our patients were poor, principally black, and many received commodities. I’m not sure what was included in commodities, but I think they were the raw materials for cooking; things like cornmeal and flour. Commodities were phased out and those who qualified got food stamps. Food stamps were originally bulky pieces of paper that could be exchanged for food. Subsequently SNAP converted to a plastic card with a dollar amount of credit to be used at the grocery.
My daughters at one point each applied for and received SNAP. Their income was monitored and as soon as they reached a certain level of income they no longer got SNAP. They were glad to get off of SNAP. I think that getting qualified involved sitting for hours like cattle waiting for slaughter. Neither of them talked much about it. I never heard either of them talk about sitting in a waiting room full of men, but they might have. Since they were both living in the Pacific northwest at the time it is probable that most people in the waiting room were white.
An article in the Washington Post reported that a South Carolina man took his entire $70.00 on his SNAP card to buy groceries with which he fixed a Christmas dinner for the community. I can’t imagine that it was much of a dinner, but that’s what he did. The question, of course, is how he ate the rest of the month if he relied on SNAP. As magnanimous as was his act, he did it on someone else’s dime.
All of those people who wanted to “drain the swamp” were oblivious to the fact that they were mostly denizens of the swamp. Someone observed at the run-up to the 2016 election that Trump’s supporters did not think of themselves as poor; they were just rich people down on their luck, temporarily disadvantaged. I can understand that. At the time I met L we were both students and I was eating one meal a day because that was all I could afford. I never thought that that would last. I had a ladder up. I can’t imagine what the MAGA crowd thought was going to make them “rich” again. I’m guessing that they thought it was going to be Trump, but how? I imagine that it was by reversing “reverse discrimination”.
I’ve had conversations with some of the Trump supporters. They can sound perfectly sane and then go off about some conspiracy theory that they have. It’s then that I realize that some people are capable of believing anything; the world is flat, the moon landing was faked, the government blew up the Twin Towers, SNAP recipients are all black women, Barack Obama only got into law school because of the Civil Rights Act, “Medicare for All” would be socialism, but Medicare is not.
Jumping a bit to a related topic; Paradise, California and the Camp Fire.
From time to time we still hear some bits of news about the aftermath of the Camp fire. People are still in sleeping bags. One boy, asked what he most wanted back, answered, “My bed.” People call wanting to donate worn out clothes, sleeping bags they no longer use and a variety of hand-me-downs. They are told that the relief effort is past that. What is needed now is money to buy new clothes, a place to live, and other amenities of normal life. People are disappointed. They seem to want to help as long as it doesn’t put them out any.
A giant problem to rebuilding Paradise is one of clearing the rubble. Apparently, there is nothing to salvage. What is proposed now is bulldozing the debris, hauling it to some central site, and then sending it to various landfills. Several proposed central sites have been suggested. The residents in those sites have all said, NIMBY (not in my back yard).
Many of the refugees have been resettled, but many haven’t. Apparently, there is real resistance to temporarily settling the refugees in various nearby communities. One resident said that he didn’t want a lot of tiny houses in the area. They would pull his property value down. It sounded like his milk of human kindness curdled a long time ago. This is not an indictment of Californians; it is really an indictment of all of us. All of us have seen communities pull together following a disaster. St. George Island, Florida residents, following the last hurricane, had someone with a cooker making dinner for everyone. There was no electricity or water so this was a major benefit to everyone.
My own experience has been that following the cleanup and assistance to each other following a disaster people went back to being their old self-centered selves. All the community cliques were reestablished. That appears to be human nature. As much as we would like to be different, we are as my daughter said as I bemoaned the fact that a third of our population still support Trump, “Dad, we haven’t evolved at all. Until recent times public execution was considered entertainment. Until 1910 rape was considered a property crime. We’re still just apes in fancy clothes.” For a brief time I was able to ignore that and believe that we were actually evolving to something better. It seems to be that societies and cultures are able to evolve faster than biology. Our basic nature keeps pulling us back in terms of culture. We live in an age of high technology and crowding and still function as members of tribes.