5 x 8: The food stamp debate


Yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives cutting food stamps (known as SNAP) for millions of Americans is largely symbolic. The bill, like most bills at the Capitol, isn’t going anywhere. It is a statement of values for those who participated in the vote.

It restricts food stamps for single adults with no children, and requires drug testing of its recipients. It requires them to enroll in jobs training, but does not require the states to provide the training programs. An estimated 2 million would lose help with buying food, tens of thousands of them in Minnesota.

Who are they?

They’re a cross section of America. There’s Jason, for example, a 35-year-old veteran, who writes:

I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn’t risk it so *I* could come back and go hungry.

Anyone who genuinely supports cutting food stamps is not an intellectual or an ideologue – they’re a bully.

And nobody likes a bully. Except other bullies.

The average benefit per day for a recipient is $4.50. The CEO of Panera is trying to eat on that amount this month. He’s blogging about the SNAP challenge on LinkedIn:

Relative to SNAP, I want to give voice to a real issue many of you have articulated in your correspondence – that SNAP, though designed as a safety net, has become an entitlement program that is taken advantage of by people who are not in need. One man wrote, “They’re just mooching off the system, can’t you see that?” While undoubtedly there are some who take advantage, I keep trying to bring the conversation back to the real issue.

Forty eight million people are hungry in this country — 48 MILLION. We cannot punish the millions who are confronted every day with anxiety about where their next meal might come from, because of the behavior of what is likely a minority. The point is, I believe we can do better than allow significant numbers of our fellow citizens to go to sleep hungry.

Let me provide an analogy for choosing what to focus on as you think about the issue of food insecurity in America. At Panera, we offer free bathrooms and free WiFi in every bakery cafe. Sure, some people abuse these free services. We have some folks who sit in our stores all day long and use the WiFi without buying anything.

Does that mean we should shut down the WiFi for everyone else? No, of course not. The same logic applies to our Panera Cares cafes. Should we shut them down just because some people choose to ignore our philosophy of shared responsibility and eat without leaving a donation? Likewise, do we choose to ignore our neighbors and fellow citizens in pain because of the abuse of some? Clearly, my answer to that is no. Indeed, my belief is that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Technically, there already are work requirements, the National Review, points out. But they were waived during the economic meltdown and many states haven’t enforced them, it says.

But all of that is to end on Nov. 1 anyway.

“How does it make this country a better place to reduce food security for millions of Americans, including children, the elderly and disabled? Many SNAP recipients are working jobs but not earning enough to pay for basic needs,” the Des Moines Register says in an editorial.

And Minnesota’s error rate in paying for SNAP is among the worst in the nation. A state official estimates that up to 5 percent of the payments are wrong.

Will the idea get more people working? “Cantor’s ‘get-a-job’ message rings hollow when there are few jobs to be had,” BusinessWeek says.


The phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” came to mind when we read Curtis Gilbert’s report on Saint Paul officials’ reactions to news a private developer is buying the empty Macy’s building in the city’s downtown.

Curtis pulls the “money quote” from city documents:

In the documents, city officials describe their worst-case scenario as a “Burlington Coat Factory type” of store or a parking ramp. Mayor Chris Coleman has said he’d love to see an upscale office building with restaurants on the first floor.

Let’s think about this. Granted having retail and jobs from a suburb-favoring store isn’t as good as getting upscale offices and restaurants in a downtown that has the market cornered on empty buildings of failed businesses and restaurants whose hours begin at 11 a.m. and end at 2 p.m., but “worst case?”

The comment came in a meeting in which city officials are said they’d like to avoid any business with a lower “price point” than the Macy’s store that went belly up on the site. Good luck with that.

There are some great things happening in Saint Paul. The Saints ballpark will be fun. Someday. Lowertown has neat lofts and bars. There’ll be light rail. Someday. There’ll be some action at the beautifully restored Union Depot. Someday. Maybe. The now closed Post Office may deliver on the dreams of city officials as a hotel and/or apartment complex. Someday. Who knows? Someone might buy the closed county jail on the riverfront that officials were sure someone would gobble up for high-priced condos with a view. But cinder block isn’t in style. Downtown dining before an event at the Xcel? Great fun.

There is a certain take-what-you-can-get reality that faces most struggling downtowns in America and often what you can get only accentuates the air of desperation. Give city officials credit — lots of credit — for having a vision for the city that shoots for the moon. But not everyone can grow up to be an astronaut.


Increasingly, people aren’t so much fans of their NFL team; they’re fans of football players on their fantasy teams. It’s changed the nature of sports and accounts for much of the exploding popularity of the NFL.

And people are making a buck or two, NPR’s Planet Money reports. Insurance brokers are selling insurance in case your star player goes down, and the local guy — Paul Charchian’s — latest company holds the dough that’s involved.

Beats working. Which is what a lot of people don’t do — I hear — during the day while working on their team.

Related: Adrian Peterson thinks fantasy football is a headache (Sports Illustrated)


Which Minnesota athletes aren’t earning their paycheck? Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal takes a crack at it. Spoiler alert: #1 is Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild left wing.


What was the one thing missing from last week’s 9/11 anniversary? Ballet. Not anymore.

(h/t: Hart VanDenburg)

Bonus I: The Millennial Generation apologizes:

Bonus II: The best ads aren’t on TV anymore. And they’re not ads anymore. They’re films. And then, video games and apps:

Has your household recovered from the Great Recession?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panel of entrepreneurs will discuss the things they wish they knew when they first decided to go out on their own.

Second hour: Transgender youth coping. Plus: A BBC documentary on fasting.

Third hour: A look at the Pope’s interview. Plus: Restoring your online reputation.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Minnesota GOP Congressman Vin Weber on “Constructive Calamity? Surprising Progress on Fiscal Problems.” He spoke yesterday in Minneapolis.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A 22-year-old Yale graduate was facing a common dilemma: what to do after graduation. But his solution was everything but common. He would spent two months in a remote Canadian mountain village trying to compose a fully orchestrated chamber-pop album San Fermin. NPR will have the story.

  • MrE85

    1) Your answer to this question may hinge on knowing how many kids in America depend on SNAP. In Mississippi, 40 percent of all kids are using food stamps. And yes, all three of the four members of MS delegation voted in favor of the cuts. I don’t really have to mention their political party, do I?

  • Lisa

    1) “It is a statement of values for those who participated in the vote.” How much does it cost every time they hold one of these symbolic votes? I bet it could pay for a bunch of food stamps.

    I get that paying isn’t the issue here for those against it, but for the paltry sum of money it takes to fund this program in comparison to the budget as a whole, aren’t there more important things we can see our government not do anything about today? Like jobs (funneling money to the top tax bracket doesn’t count you as job creation you sillies).

    Bonus 1) As a fellow Millennial, Amen. Nothing like working double shifts between 2 part-time jobs and getting asked why you don’t ‘work harder to get your life together’ to make one’s blood boil.

  • MrE85
    • Rachel

      Yes! Manipulation was the first word I thought of when I saw that video. Love the Funny or Die link. Thanks. Beautifully done song tho.

      • joetron2030

        The song is Fiona Apple covering “Pure Imagination” from the 1971 “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” movie.

  • Juls

    Here’s a thought… Could there be some meaningful connection between raising the minimum wage and cutting food stamps? (The raising should be done before the cutting).
    This would address the real question which is: Why do so many people need food stamps?

  • Amanda H.

    Bonus 1 is spot on.

  • DavidG

    I’ll just say that so far, I haven’t seen anything heaped on the Millennials that wasn’t said about my fellow GenXers.

    (and I suspect Boomers would probably say the same thing about us)

    • jon

      you talk like they are two separate generations… as someone who straddles the two, I often struggle to see a large difference between the echo boomers and gen x.

  • Dave

    When I was a little kid, I encountered a nagging question: why must people pay for food? You need to food; you die without it. What if you can’t pay?

    Obviously I support SNAP. The one thing I’d like to see attached to it is sex education. MPR had the story a couple days ago of a homeless mother with a four-year-old and an infant. I felt awful for those children. I don’t understand why you would have a child under those circumstances. I find that incredibly irresponsible. No part of me thinks that mother should ever be denied assistance though.

  • Skyler Vilt


  • PWJ

    I get 900 dollars a month from SSD and only get 16 dollars a month in SNAP to help buy food and it don’t go far.

  • jon

    @#1) remember the outrage at CEOs getting 160 million dollar bonuses when they companies were bailed out to the tune of 170 billion dollars… (m vs b makes a difference)
    Ironic that now the house costs US taxpayers 75 million in salaries for representatives (actual cost is higher because of benefits and some positions paying more) and snap costing 75 billion…

  • dave d

    In my opinion,if you take their food stamps,then our crime rate will increase dramaticly.

    • Lissette

      Not necessarily, after they throw a bad tantrum, they will be realize the only option is to start looking for work.

      • Lissette

        I’m sorry, by they. I meant the ones taking advantage of the food stamp system by reporting themselves as single parent when in reality they have a husband making a salary of $60,000 and more.

  • Mitch

    I’m having lunch today at Panera.

  • Dave

    I don’t think it’s any secret that boomers destroyed the America we once knew. Greed that grew out of the 70s and 80s began to gut the middle class. Look at a graph of income inequality in this country. It was at its narrowest around 1968, the same year that real wages were highest.

    • MrE85

      “I don’t think it’s any secret that boomers destroyed the America we once knew.”

      You’re welcome. Anything else we can do for you, before we start dying in droves?

      • Yes, please leave the Internet your invented up when you leave. Also leave the Clean Air and Water standards that you passed in place. And the nation’s higher education system that you (helped) build? Leave that too, please. And the interstate highway system, the safest aviation system in the world, auto safety standards, and the Peace Corps. And desegregation. Leave that. Now get out of here before you ruin anything more.

        • MrE85

          Collins, you’re on a roll.

          • kevinfromminneapolis

            Those things are mostly great, so thank you. The legacy government you stuck us with, well the jury is still out. Half kidding.

  • Lissette

    I know of a lot of women that have been on food stamps all their lives in IL that report themselves as a single parent when in reality they have a husband (significant other) with a salary of above $60,000/yr. and when reported the food stamp office is too lazy to report it further due to the paperwork involved. I understand there are people that need these programs which are paid by the taxes we pay, but something needs to be done to weed out the ones taking advantage of the system.

    • I know a more efficient way to root out fraud. Prosecute it. Prosecute the food stamp office and prosecute those who cheat.

      There’s fraud in defense contracts, too, but we’re not cutting the defense budget as a means to stop it.

    • AllYourTV

      Lisette–I’m not trying to pick a fight, but you know “lots” of women who have been on Food Stamps all their lives and continue on it fraudulently? It’s not that I don’t believe you…but let’s just say that I’m skeptical.

      I don’t know what the situation is in IL, but in MN you have to provide documentation every three months in a small review and every six months in a major one. That includes pay stubs, tax returns and other documentation that makes it difficult to finesse things too much. Sure, you can decide not to claim money you get under the table. But since you have to provide proof of monthly expenses–including everything from rent to the smallest expense–as well as copies of your bank statement, it’s pretty risky to be purposely fraudulent.

      My experience has been that most of the people who don’t support programs for the poor or think many of the recipients are lazy or lacking ambition have never been in a situation where they needed that kind of help. I know what it’s like to sit in your living room at night and try to figure out what you have left to sell so you can buy some groceries or pay a long-overdue utility bill. I’ve sat in a room filled with people waiting to get a couple of bags of stale bread and canned goods past their expiration date because that’s their best option that day. Yes, there is some fraud involved, we’re dealing with humans, after all. But anyone who believes there are a lot of Americans who rather get by day-to-day than work simply doesn’t understand the situation.

      • shorelines

        I don’t know a lot of people with $60,000 salaries, let alone a lot who are earning that much AND defrauding the SNAP system.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    I’m a millenial and I’m not sorry for anything. But in about 30 years I fear I’ll be wishing for at least the peace of mind that comes from an apology.