The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
Missouri State Representative Rick Brattin (R-55) has proposed a bill that would prohibit Missourians who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) from using their benefits to buy “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.” But why stop at food stamps? Let’s limit beneficiaries’ use of all federal benefits.
Start with an easy one: unemployment benefits. No spending that money on a new suit for job interviews. That old sport coat or pantsuit will be fine.
How about crop subsidies? Some farmers buy fancy farm implements with GPS and air-conditioned cabs. No more of that. And no spending those subsidies on high tech seeds, fertilizers, and weed killers.
But I’m a tax guy and want to focus on tax benefits. The earned income credit (EITC) is a good place to start—it can use the same rules Representative Brattin has proposed for food stamps. And do the same for the child credit—kids don’t need the omega-3 that they’d get from seafood.
The child care credit? No spending it on private nannies or daycare centers that feed into those tony private schools. Public daycare centers should be fine.
Education credits and deductions for tuition and interest on student loans? No using those to study classics or English lit. Every student getting educational assistance should require to major in a STEM subject. That might even yield a positive return for the government—those majors are the ones getting good jobs these days and they’ll pay lots of taxes.
One of my favorites: the mortgage interest deduction. Some people use the savings to buy houses with Jacuzzi tubs, walk-in wine cellars, and his-and-her master bathrooms. No more of that. People getting a tax break on their mortgages should settle for a tract home no larger than 1,500 square feet with one bathroom and no garage.
Okay, you get my point. Just because you get benefits from the government doesn’t mean the government should tell you how to use them. Maybe Representative Brattin really did see “people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs” with food stamps and maybe he really can’t afford to buy those items. But maybe, just maybe, the person had saved up and was buying them for a special occasion. You can’t afford to buy much food, much less very much expensive food, on a food stamp budget. The average daily benefit in Missouri last year was just $4 per person per day.
Congress created the various federal programs that assist people in many ways—to attend school, save for retirement, buy homes, take care of their children, and, yes, eat. Let’s trust them to use that assistance as they see fit and not tell them how to live their lives.
Posts and comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.