This legislative crusade to take food stamps away from more than 200,000 Floridians seems to be motivated by two philosophical ideals:
No. 1 — Limit spending.
No. 2 — Nudge people toward self-sufficiency.
Well, heck, who's going to argue with that? Lawmakers should always be careful when spending our tax dollars, and weaning people from government dependency is a no-brainer.
So the concept driving the plan is admirable.
It's the plan itself that is 50 shades of kooky.
Let's start with the tax savings. There are none. At least none that will affect Florida's budget. Other than administrative costs, the entire food stamp program is funded by the federal government. So, in essence, we are paying taxes to the IRS in Washington, D.C., and telling the agency to keep the change.
If you are ideologically pure, you could applaud the idea that Florida is rejecting its federal allowance and saving money for America as a whole.
But, somehow, I don't think the rest of America cares.
Florida was one of 40 states that expanded eligibility for food stamps in the middle of the recession in 2010. Do you know how many states will still have expanded standards if Florida drops out?
Yeah, 39. And I'm sure those 39 will be happy to spend Florida's extra money.
Meanwhile, this proposed bill would also mandate that Florida begin investigating food stamp recipients to make sure they are not fudging their finances to be eligible. How are we going to pay for this? With federal funds we get as a bonus for having so little fraud in the first place.
So, if you follow the logic, we get extra money because we don't have much fraud, and we're going to use that extra money to look for more fraud.
Meanwhile, we'll reject the money for food.
Which brings us to the self-sufficiency angle. Just to reiterate, it's a darn fine idea to make sure people are only using government assistance as a temporary crutch and not a permanent lifestyle.
When you look at it that way, maybe it's worth rejecting the federal government's money so we can force people to help themselves.
Except for this teensy problem:
Of the 229,000 people that will be denied food stamps, the Legislature estimates at least 201,000 of them are children, seniors or people with disabilities.
So, to motivate those other 28,000 people, we're willing to take food away from 201,000 kids and elderly who might not be able to get jobs themselves?
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, kept reiterating during an Appropriations Committee hearing that the economy has recovered, and so it makes sense for Florida to return to the same standards it was using before the recession.
With all due respect, that sounds like tunnel vision.
It completely ignores that Florida is still one of the worst states in terms of income inequality and percentage of residents living in poverty.
"I understand the economy is doing really well on Wall Street,'' Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said to White. "Is it your contention that, among the poorest Americans, those that are currently on food stamps, the economy is doing very well for them?''
"No, sir,'' White replied. "I think it's certainly extremely tough times, particularly for the working poor. Again, I would say though, we're going to the same income threshold for eligibility that we had prior to the recession.''
Here's the point I keep coming back to:
The great majority of Floridians will never notice if this bill passes or fails. It will not reduce their taxes, and it will not change their lives for better or worse.
The only people who will care are the politicians who see this as an ideological victory.
And the hungry children and seniors left in their wake.