President Obama talks about self-sufficiency as a good thing. America isn’t listening. As a lifestyle in America, independence is eroding more every day.
I know, I know. It’s hard-hearted to say such things. In popular culture, the good people want everybody to have everything. Bad people don’t. They’re greedy. Good people are understanding when they see a young man talking on the latest in cell phones while standing in line for a free meal at a soup kitchen. It’s only bad people who interpret such scenes as a society gone awry – mumble about misplaced priorities and such.
Regardless, combining in recent days to make the point that how we think about dependence is changing have been a radio preacher, a news brief and a commercial.
Sunday mornings I like to listen to preachers on the radio. Last week, Moses – as a baby in the bulrushes – was the topic of one sermon.
The preacher explained how Pharoah had put out a decree that all male Hebrew infants be killed and how Moses’ mom, in an attempt to hide or save her son, had placed him in a reed basket and floated it in the backwaters of the Nile. As the Bible tells it, the basket drifted and was found by a daughter of Pharoah, who immediately loved the boy child and decided to keep him as her own.
The preacher became more excited about the next part. It’s in Exodus 2:8 and says a servant offered to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the infant. The daughter agreed that was a good idea and that she’d pay. The woman who was hired was Moses’ real mother – and the preacher exulted about that. “She gets to keep her baby and Pharoah pays her to take care of it,” he said over and over again. “She gets to keep her baby and Pharoah pays her to take care of it.”
In the preacher’s view, this was Divine intervention. A way had been created for the mother to have somebody else to cover all the costs, making her life easier. This was a good thing, he said. It was creative thinking by the Creator, with the implication that other mothers would be wise to seek similar deals.
The news brief reported that food stamps – now renamed SNAP and paid mostly via electronic benefit transfer cards – are feeding 34 million Americans. That means more than one in 10 of us is having all or some of our groceries provided by Pharoah, known these days as the federal treasury. The total reflects an increase, which could certainly be expected in times of double-digit joblessness. But even in flush economic times, more than 30 million people have not been generating enough income to feed themselves. For some, doubtless, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program is, in fact, a blessing because otherwise they’d starve. But for others, it’s a choice – the preacher says an acceptable choice – to dodge self-sufficiency. There should be no shame in accepting help when needed, but should it be OK to choose to let your neighbors feed your family on a more or less permanent basis?
Clearly that choice is being made, especially in Mississippi, which, by the way, provides nearly the lowest benefit amount in the nation. Here, SNAP assists in getting food on the table for 522,305 people. That’s 18 percent of the state population or nearly one in five people. The number of recipients is up 16 percent in a year.
There was a pilot food stamp program in 1934, but the real McCoy was born in 1964. The average monthly benefit was $133.65 per person before the federal stimulus law kicked in another $80 per month for a family of four.
Generally, anyone qualifies who has no savings and who, on a chart keyed to family size, has less than 130 percent of the official poverty level in monthly income. Owning a home and vehicles don’t disqualify. Also, certain payments are deducted from income.
The SNAP-funded commercial, also on radio, reinforces the preacher’s view. In sum, the announcer says, those eligible for assistance who have not claimed it are denying themselves and their children the good health that can be obtained through ample food. The individuals – and there are many of them – doing whatever it takes to remain self-sufficient, he implied, are pretty stupid.
It’s a tough topic because anyone who questions SNAP is immediately dismissed as favoring hungry babies.
So leave it at this: Any notion of equating freedom with self-sufficiency is fast departing. But this isn’t our grandparents’ USA. These days, getting Pharoah to pay your obligations, as the preacher said, is clever and, as the announcer said, smart.
Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.