The Corner

SNAP, Crackle, and Bust

From Eli Saslow in the Washington Post, a portrait of America as Dependistan:

He wiped the front counter and smoothed the edges of a sign posted near his register. “Yes! We take Food Stamps, SNAP, EBT!”

“Today, we fill the store up with everything,” he said. “Tomorrow, we sell it all.”

At precisely one second after midnight, on March 1, Woonsocket would experience its monthly financial windfall — nearly $2 million from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Federal money would be electronically transferred to the broke residents of a nearly bankrupt town, where it would flow first into grocery stores and then on to food companies, employees and banks, beginning the monthly cycle that has helped Woonsocket survive.

The “economy” (unemployment, shuttered factories, debt) is permanent, but the economic cycle is monthly, thanks to “Uncle Sam Day”:

The 1st is always circled on the office calendar at International Meat Market, where customers refer to the day in the familiar slang of a holiday. It is Check Day. Milk Day. Pay Day. Mother’s Day.

“Uncle Sam Day,” Pichardo said now, late on Feb. 28, as he watched new merchandise roll off the trucks. Out came 40 cases of Ramen Noodles. Out came 230 pounds of ground beef and 180 gallons of orange juice.

SNAP enrollment in Rhode Island had been rising for six years, up from 73,000 people to nearly 180,000, and now three-quarters of purchases at International Meat Market are paid for with Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Government money had in effect funded the truckloads of food at Pichardo’s dock . . . and the three part-time employees he had hired to unload it . . . and the walk-in freezer he had installed to store surplus product . . . and the electric bills he paid to run that freezer, at nearly $2,000 each month.

Pichardo’s profits from SNAP had also helped pay for International Meat Market itself, a 10-aisle store in a yellow building that he had bought and refurbished in 2010, when the rise in government spending persuaded him to expand out of a smaller market down the block.

That old Democratic Depression anthem is too idealistic for such a world. But, for the new normal, “Snappy Days Are Here Again”:

Grocery store chains had started discount spinoffs. Farmers markets had incentivized SNAP shopping by rewarding customers with $2 extra for every $5 of government money spent. Restaurants, long forbidden from accepting SNAP, had begun a major lobbying campaign in Washington, and now a handful of Subways in Rhode Island were accepting the benefit as part of a pilot program.

And then what? Where does this story end? What happens to change the trajectory of these lives?

Mark Steyn — Mark Steyn is an international bestselling author, a Top 41 recording artist, and a leading Canadian human-rights activist.

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