Let Them Eat Food! Food Stamps in Three Acts

food stamps

With the new reductions in food stamps for those in the US who qualify, a rallying cry may be  heard soon:  Let Them Eat Food; and further, Marie Antoinette’s command of, Let Them Eat Cake! seems most appropriate to apply to the decrease in food stamps to the poor. In a related story, the novel, Les Miserables, comes to mind when imagining the plight of those families whose budget is already stretched tight.

It is important to look at both sides of this miserable coin.  The result of reduced dollars spent in food stamps assistance to US families and the effect on US retailers and, conversely, the help such a cut would bring to our national budget and debt.

Les Miserables, Act I:

If we take the negative side of such a reduction firstly, it is not challenging to realize the immediate effect on poor families across the country when we don’t “let them eat!”   In other words, reduce the amount of food stamps.

The Washington Post reported the reduction in food stamps was around 5%. If a family of 5 is getting $820 per month, then after a 5% reduction, their assistance would be lowered to $779.  It does not take a great mathematician to figure out that an already out-stretched budget would force families to reprioritize what they spend food stamps dollars on when they go shopping for groceries or clothing.

Les Miserable’s, Act II makes its stage appearance in the lives of United States poorer classes:

The argument could be made that the poor have no incentive to work or improve their lot if they are handed food stamps each month, no matter what amount they receive.  If there are cuts, these thinkers would say, then let it happen and maybe the poor will come to their own rescue.

Look at the theory encapsulated in the paragraph above.  In this version of reality, poor families on food stamps would leap off their respective “couches” and get a job.  Makes some sense, but what jobs are these people getting?  Although the US is experiencing some relief from the recession, the job market is not exactly teaming with advertisements.

Even those currently applying and interviewing for positions are finding it difficult to land a job that pays enough to support the family.  Educated youth are challenged by the fact that more mature, experienced candidates are getting the jobs they apply for. Now, let the floods of poor start joining the ranks of job searchers.  Will it be a leap in logic to assume that families currently on food stamps assistance can get a job in this market?

Les Miserables, Act III: 

The closing Act III brings us to the revolution, just as it brought us to the French Revolution in the novel.  Will the poor rise up and overtake the government to get back what has been lost in food stamps assistance?  Not likely.  Will the economy of the government benefit from the decrease in food stamps, which could then bring on stability and growth in the job markets?  Possibly.  For some, the time to move forward in our personal lives and become more monetarily successful is now.  What if those who could work had more job opportunities?

Would those workers and their families actually gain from austerity measures aimed at pulling up the poor’s boot straps?  It’s hard to predict, but it is another angle to look at in order to look at the  positive side of the issues.

Let us hope that Les Miserables closes soon, both for disadvantaged US families and for our beleaguered economy.


By Lisa M Pickering


Los Angeles Times

Killeen Daily Herald

The Washington Post


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