Democrats call the legislation draconian. Some in the media complain it goes too far. Sen. Harry Reid calls the bill "hateful."
So what's actually in the House-passed food stamps bill? The act would reinstate work requirements for able-bodied adults who apply for food stamps; reduce the amount of time they can receive food stamps from three years to three months; stop the 1.8 million individuals who are ineligible from continuing to cash in; and end taxpayer-funded advertising for the program.
Over the past five years, participation in the food stamp program has doubled to 47.7 million Americans, a number roughly the size of the population of California, Oregon and Washington. There has been a 164 percent increase in the number of able-bodied adults without children on food stamps. Most of these adults are not working.
While the changes would save roughly $4 billion of the $80 billion annually spent on the program, that is not the biggest reason to support the legislation. This bill should become law because the current program hurts the very people it was designed to help.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, once said, "The issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it." Giving free food to an able-bodied adult for years without work requirements harms that person's motivation, self-esteem, and dignity. Job searches are brutal on the ego, and government programs can act as a disincentive to keep on trying, ultimately delaying the satisfaction and self-respect that comes from earning a paycheck.
Up to $10,000 a year in food stamps is a powerful incentive to stay home. Lacking attractive job options, a person might decide that a 20-hour-a-week retail or restaurant job is not worth it, even as a stop-gap measure until the economy improves.
The status quo has an even more pernicious effect on children. One of the most profound ways parents demonstrate love for a child is by providing for his basic needs. Through their sacrifice, children experience love and learn from example what it means to be a good parent.
When I was a kid, my dad was an appliance salesman at Sears and later a tire salesman. My mom took in ironing, watched other people's children, and occasionally cleaned houses. Like the factory work my grandparents did, these jobs were not flashy or ego-stoking; they put food on the table. Every day, my parents demonstrated the value of work and the beauty of providing for a family in way that a high-profile career, with all of its intrinsic rewards, might not have.
Is it not a slap in the face to people who work hard, thankless jobs to support those who don't work?
Ben Franklin said it best: "I am for doing good to the poor, but … I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed … that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."
The food stamps reform bill is far more compassionate than the status quo.
Krista Kafer is director of Colorado's Future Project, a senior fellow at the Independence Institute and Centennial Institute, and co-host of Backbone Radio, which airs Sundays from 5 to 8 p.m. on 710 KNUS.