Friday, July 13, 2018

A new place for my Political Posts and Retired Judge Mark Painter is a Real Republican

Hi everyone,

Most of you know I have been going off on lots of political rants lately.  This has the effect of alienating a lot of my friends and family.  While I am not afraid of sharing my opinions, the forum I'm doing it in is not necessarily the best place.

Therefore, as an experiment, for the next few days I'm going to try to move my political posting, both links and essays to here.  This is my old blog.  There is some great old content here so feel free to look around.  If this experiment works, you won't see much more in my Facebook or Twitter feed other than a comment that I have updated my blog and a title.

Now on with today's posts and links.

First up, THIS GUY GETS IT.  See, here is a case of a Republican who sees what has happened to the party.  Retired Judge Mark Painter states:

I took pride in belonging to the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan.
 Check out his op ed in the July 13, 2018 USA Today here.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

Note:  It has been a while since I have posted here.  I can't promise that there will be any more frequent postings but the following is a term paper from my American Politics class.  There are some important issues here regarding the pending 2018 Farm Bill.  Please take a few moments to read this and feel free to provide constructive criticism and proposals on how we can better approach SNAP.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Final Paper
Denis R. Lachapelle
Southern New Hampshire University


“It’s a messed-up situation.”  Danny Lamb is 41.  He lives in Pittsburg, Kansas.  And he is the face of food insecurity in the United States.  “You got people who really do depend on a little bit of assistance through the state," Lamb said. "It seems like they really don't care if somebody goes hungry or whatever" (Efrenfreund & Ferdman, 2016). 
The USDA defines Danny as an “ABAWD”, Able Bodied Adult Without Dependents.  This definition limits his ability to collect assistance.  Danny has been filling out employment applications for several weeks. He does not have a degree and has bad knees, old football injuries from high school, that restrict the kind of work he can do.  And since his 8-year-old son lives with the boy's mother, Lamb legally has no dependents.
Danny is an example of the one in eight people struggling with hunger in the United States.  Poverty, often caused by unemployment or under-employment, and job instability are the leading causes of food insecurity and hunger in the United States.  Food insecurity describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life (Feeding America, 2018).  Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formally known as food stamps, provide a fundamental safety net for over 42 million Americans (USDA, 2018).  These benefits are considered the fundamental safety net in the United States and are the only public assistance program that is available to all family types (Hoynes & Schanzenbach, 2012).

What does SNAP do?

SNAP benefits, as the name implies, are supplemental.  The benefits are designated to be a supplement to food purchases made with a household’s own income.  SNAP can be used at supermarkets, large and small grocery stores, convenience stores, and farmers markets to purchase foods for use at home or seeds for plants to produce food.  Alcohol and tobacco cannot be purchased.  (USDA, 2012)

Who is Responsible for SNAP?

Individual states administer the SNAP program and certification of eligibility for SNAP benefits, however these benefits are 100% federally funded.  Benefits are provided via an electronic debit card to most households with gross income less than 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines (USDA, 2017). 
(130 percent of poverty) (100 percent of poverty) Maximum Benefit Allotment
1 $1,307 $1,005 $192
2 $1,760 $1,354 $352
3 $2,213 $1,702 $504
4 $2,665 $2,050 $640
5 $3,118 $2,399 $760
6 $3,571 $2,747 $913
7 $4,024 $3,095 $1,009
8 $4,477 $3,444 $1,153
Each additional member $453 $349 $144
SNAP Income Eligibility Limits - October 1, 2017, through September 30, 2018

SNAP’s budget is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).  As part of the USDA, it shares an annual budget with other areas including farm and foreign agricultural services, rural development, food safety, and natural resources and environment.  Within the Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services department, SNAP is just one program of many that domestic nutrition assistance programs including WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), and FDPIR (Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations).  Combined, these Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services programs make up over 70% of the USDA’s budget annually (USDA Budget, 2016). 

The History of Food Stamps

At the height of the latest financial crisis, December 2012, an all-time high of 47.8 million Americans participated in SNAP (LaRose, 2016).  Today, an estimated 42 million people rely on SNAP to supplement their household food purchases.  Formally known as Food Stamps, there have been federally supported governmental programs successfully providing surplus food as early as 1939.  Between 1939 and 1944 over 20 million people were provided with surplus food through the Food Stamp program (USDA, 2017).  The modern Food Stamp program dates back to President Kennedy’s first executive order which established a pilot program in eight counties.  This was later expanded in 1964 into The Food Stamp Act as part of President Johnson’s Great Society program.  Its goal was to strengthen the agricultural economy and to provide improved levels of nutrition among low-income households.  The program took several years to ramp up and did not universally cover the United States until 1975 as funding controlled its growth (Hoynes & Schanzenbach, 2012).  With the passage of the Farm Bill of 2008 the Food Stamp program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Why is SNAP controversial?

Historically there has been a belief in an “Ideology of the Dole”: a belief that many relief recipients were “undeserving poor”, lazy, immigrants, people of color, unwed mothers, and did not want to work (Rose, 1989).  That belief carries over to the impression people have of SNAP recipients.  They have no intention to take part in the “American Dream” but wish to be dependent on the Federal Government.  In contrast, four out of five recipients are employed (Redden, 2013).  Low unemployment rates mask the reality that the working poor and many low-skilled workers are trending towards more precarious job conditions, with fluctuating schedules, low hours, and irregular paychecks.  Roughly 4 in 10 workers who are paid hourly are informed of their schedules less than a week in advance.  "Even if you get a job, you're not guaranteed more than 20 hours a week" (Efrenfreund & Ferdman, 2016).

Taking a Side

From the earliest days of the colonies, there has been publicly funded relief for the poor and dependent people.  Local government officials were given the authority to raise taxes as needed to build and manage poorhouses, supply food, and put the able bodied to work (or in prison).  Colonial legislatures and later the States passed legislation that established the tradition of public responsibility for care of the poor (Hansen, 2011).  Yet prior to the Great Depression, most of this relief was handled at the local and town level by local government units and charities (Rose, 1989).  This changed with the New Deal, and specifically with the passage of The Social Security Act of 1935.  This was the first time that the government, at a federal level, had attempted to protect the health and well-being of the nation.
As the United States has continued to grow into a country of spread across 2.3 billion acres with over 300 million citizens, the national welfare state has grown.  It is no longer a question as to whether or not the government addresses the issues of poverty and hunger but is now a debate as to the degree to which the Federal Government responds.

Is it the Government’s Job to Fight the War on Poverty?

President Johnson, in his 1964 State of the Union Address stated the goal of the War on Poverty was, “…not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it” (Johnson, 1964).  But after more than fifty years, has the war been successful?  Adjusting for inflation, over 21 trillion dollars have been spent on various entitlement programs including Head Start, Food Stamps, and Medicare (Woodhill 2014).  Yet rather than reduce poverty, this has only increased the size of the welfare state and possibly changed the very moral fiber of our country.  In 1967, 14.2% of Americans fell below the poverty line.  Thirty-eight years later, in 2005, 12.7% of Americans fell below the poverty line – based on US Census Bureau data from the March Current Population Surveys (Grieger, 2009).    The government pushed forward with plans that were supposed to help America’s poor become self-sufficient, but measured against these statistics, it can be argued that the war has been a failure.
Looking at just the changes in poverty rate is a simplistic approach to assessing Johnson’s War on Poverty.  The question should be, what would the rate of poverty have been without the government programs?  Government programs have played a large role in maintaining a flat rate in growth for poverty.  Without the anti-poverty programs in place, it is estimated that poverty levels would be at the 27-29% (Wimer, 2013).

A Handout or a Helping Hand

Many government programs fall into the category of entitlements: housing assistance, Pell grants, Head Start, LIHEAP, Lifeline, and the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.  Each of these programs provide benefits to segments of the American population.  With issues as complex and politically charged as entitlements, it is not possible to arbitrarily end them, however, limitations and budgetary restraints are often put in place to slow the growth or prevent abuse.
Each program has its own unique set of rules and regulations.  The eligibility and benefit stipend size for SNAP is determined by several criteria: income, household composition, citizenship/immigration status, and resources.  As earnings increase, the system automatically adjusts benefits amount, weaning the recipient off the program.
SNAP recipients are also limited if they are classified as ABAWD.  North Carolina recently implemented its policies regarding Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents.  These adults, aged 18 to 49, without dependents or children under the age of 18, and able to work, are subject to a 3-month maximum benefit within a 36-month period if they do not work a minimum of 20 hours per week or 80 hours per month (NCDHHS, 2016).  The program is designed to provided incentive to look for work or enroll in job training.

The Local Food Pantry Should Not Be the Only Answer

SNAP was designed to be supplemental, but for many it doesn’t work out that way.  Many people do not have sufficient income after paying for rent and utilities, they have no money left for food or medicine.  "One of the solutions the government has put out there is telling people to go to their local food bank, but we don't have the resources to step in in place of the government," said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City.  "This whole thing is not about whether or not they need food," she said. "That's a big problem. These people desperately need the help" (Efrenfreund & Ferdman, 2016).
Food Insecurity dramatically increased during the Great Recession of 2008 and its aftermath due to the sharp rise in unemployment.  By 2011, the rate of households classified as food insecure nationally had peaked at 15% - a figure 34% higher than before the recession.  Most dramatically, post-recession the fraction of food insecure households has remained significantly higher than a decade before. (Executive Office, 2015)

“We have a lot of elderly clients that come in here every day,” stated Roy Jarrard, volunteer coordinator of Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes, a North Carolina based food pantry.  “Many of them have custody of their grandchildren.  Their food stamps are sometimes as low as 15 dollars a month where last year they were getting 100 dollars.  We see on average 1000 families a month”
Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes is one of many organizations that work together with Feeding America.  Feeding America is one of the most well-known and largest of the private organizations that helps to fight hunger every day.  As a network of over 200 food banks across the nation, it works with its 60,000-member organizations to help distribute surplus food to over 46 million people annually (Feeding America).  Feeding America believes the “SNAP is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger,” furthermore, “Hunger is unacceptable, particularly because it is solvable” (Weill, 2017).

A Proposal to Fix a Broken System

The Farm Bill

The primary source of appropriations for SNAP came in 2014 from the most recent Farm Bill.  Farm Bills are renewed approximately every five years, which gives Congress a predictable opportunity to comprehensively review agricultural and food issues.  The most recent farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs.  SNAP comprised 80% of the nutrition component of the bill.  Under the Farm Bill, nutrition assistance programs including TEFAP, a program that provides USDA foods and federal support to food banks and food pantries like the Food Bank of New York City and Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes, are also supported.  Outside of nutritional assistance programs, the bill covers an array of other agricultural and farm commodity programs (Johnson & Monke, 2017). 
The House Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Representative K. Michael Conaway (Republican, Texas), oversees funding for the USDA, and specifically the Nutrition Subcommittee, chaired by Jackie Walorski (Republican, Indiana), oversees the SNAP program.  In 2016, the Committee submitted a report of an audit they conducted of SNAP.  They found that since other forms of welfare had become more difficult to obtain and since SNAP’s eligibility criteria was more relaxed, SNAP had become a catchall for individuals and families that received no or lower benefits from those other programs.  The net effect was to increase in SNAP enrollment.  To adjust for this increase in enrollment, the report pointed out that “the need for nutrition assistance cannot be addressed by just one program or just one group—it requires more collaboration between governments, charities, businesses, health systems, communities, individuals, and many others” (Conway, 2016).

The 2018 Farm Bill (New)

Currently in committee is the 2018 Farm Bill.  There are likely to be two major issues that will be discussed.  The first will be a change or possible increase to the ABAWD guidelines to 30 hours, and the second will be limitations to limit what people can buy with SNAP benefits.  There is continuing debate in restricting the use of SNAP benefits for soda and other “unhealthy” products (Vilsack, 2018).  In 2015 the TEFAP program was converted to block grant funding.  There is also a good possibility that there will be discussion of transitioning SNAP to block grant funding.
Also new to the table will be President Trump’s recent recommendation of the “Harvest Box” Program.  The proposal is that households participating in SNAP that receive more than $90 per month would receive a package of food in lieu of monetary benefits.  The program claims proposed savings over ten years of over $129 billion.  It does not address religious or dietary restrictions, costs for transportation and logistics, or losses to retail grocers.
Groups including Feeding America have already come out against these proposed changes.  Diana Aviv, CEO stated, “Our message to elected officials is this: No structural changes, no block grants, and no budget cuts for federal nutrition programs that help low-income Americans.” (Weill, 2018)

Block Grants

A sweeping set of welfare reforms pushed through Congress in 1996.  One of the major reforms was made to AFDC.  The cash welfare program known as AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) was converted into a new program known as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).  Two major changes were made to the program.  The first was a work and activity requirement for benefits.  The second was changing the funding to block grants (Conway, 2016).
A block grant is a consolidation of several categorical grants into one single grant.  In theory, block grants provide states and cities considerable freedom in determining how to spend money while helping to relieve their tax burdens.  History has proven that block grants present more problems than they solve.  Block grants tend to have four issues:
·                     The amount of money available from of the block grants do not grow as fast as the states had hoped or as fast as it had through categorical grants;
·                     The federal government continued to attach strings to supposedly “unrestricted” money;
·                     They tended to grow slower than categorical grants because of the nature of the kinds of political coalitions supporting each type.  Liberal politicians and interest groups tend to distrust the states, so they tend to support categorical grants.  Conservative politicians and interest groups tend to support the states over the federal government and thus support block grants;
·                     Because block grants cover such a wide range of activities, no single organization or interest group has a vital stake in enlarging the grant (Wilson, 2017).
Congress in considering proposals to make SNAP a block grant program with the 2018 Farm Bill.  "The way to think about this block grant proposal is it's a placeholder that the Republicans have put on the table as a way of signaling that they believe the SNAP program has to be changed, whether it's actually a block grant or not" (Fessler, 2015).
By converting SNAP to a block grant program, individual states would have control over the allocation of funds, possibly making deep cuts in eligibility and benefits., or allocate the funds to other uses.  Additionally, by adding 54 or more additional layers of bureaucracy (each of the fifty states controlling their own budget, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Federal Indian Reservations), they will be less likely to be responsive to economic downturns or crises, either national (e.g. recession) or localized (e.g. natural disaster). 

A Three-Point Plan for Reform

A proactive approach must be taken in order to protect the majority of benefits that SNAP provides.  With the 2018 Farm Bill under consideration, and the potential for massive funding changes and restructuring of the program, it is essential that the report the House Committee on Agriculture prepared on SNAP be analyzed to see where changes in the program can be made that maintain and expand benefits where appropriate while protecting it for years to come.  Thus, I propose a three-pronged strategy of 1) ABAWD reform with an enhanced training and job placement program, 2) Expansion of benefits for children and the elderly with a partnership with Medicare and Medicaid and a focus on nutrition, and 3) a focus on fraud enforcement and penalties.

ABAWD Reform and Training

"Making people hungrier isn't going to make them find work faster," said Rebecca Vallas, managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. "One of the most helpful things for someone looking for work is helping them not worry about putting food on the table" (Efrenfreund & Ferdman, 2016). 
The current debate is for possible tightening of the requirements for ABAWD.  Based on the Wisconsin FoodShare program, the proposal would require the recipient to be working 30 hours per week or earning the equivalent of 30 hours at minimum wage to qualify for benefits.  There are exemptions for students, caregivers, and other reasons (FoodShare Wisconsin Handbook, 2018)
ABAWD requirements target people who are already dealing with food insecurity due to unemployment or underemployment.  The requirements for ABAWDs need to be reduced or maintained at current levels.  Additionally, to help get people off of the program altogether, we need to increase opportunities for job training and placement.  Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave high praise to programs in Vermont and Mississippi.  While their programs were vastly different, Vermont targeted hard-to-employ individuals, like homeless or ex-cons, for special help getting work, and Mississippi gave recipients a four-week intensive job readiness courses. Vilsack said the goal was to find which methods worked best and apply them nationwide. (Fessler, 2015)
"These are, again, adults - no dependents, physically and mentally capable of working," Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich's presidential campaign, said in a recent interview. "Just as much as we believe in the social safety net, we also believe it's a sin not to help oneself" (Efrenfreund & Ferdman, 2016).  Therefore, if we can follow the lead of Vermont and Mississippi and provide intensive job training and placement, we can begin to alleviate the need for SNAP.

Benefits for Children and Elderly

Close to half of all participants in SNAP are children, and over half of all non-elderly, non-disabled adult participants live with children (CBPP, 2017).  And 8% of all children nationally are food insecure (USDA – ERS, 2017). 
Childhood hunger and food insecurity, is associated with many health and developmental issues including poor social and emotional development, less advanced mental proficiency, anxiety and depression, and poor self-control.  Inadequate diet may also impede children’s ability to perform academically (Executive Office of the President, 2015).

Organizations like Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes and other food pantries offer backpack programs to assist children to supplement their diets on the weekend.  Roy Jarrard explained that in Wilkes County, NC, Samaritan Kitchen has seen a 13% jump in the number of students receiving supplemental food backpacks.  “We have given out over 13 thousand bags already this school year, that’s over 53 thousand pounds of food to children in 21 schools who otherwise would go hungry over the weekend.  700 children every week get two ready to eat breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, plus snacks in each bag.  I know they’ll have food through the school year, but I worry about these kids during the Summer when school is out.”
According to Eric Schneidewind with AARP, “Elderly households, which are defined as those with an individual over age 60, represented 19 percent of all SNAP recipients in FY 2014.”  Many of these seniors have specialized diets or very specific dietary needs.  These can be difficult to afford on a limited budget.  Certain illnesses, such as diabetes, require special consideration.  When dietary restrictions are not followed, health expenses rise.  The USDA does have some programs to address senior needs, including assignment of card benefits and the CSFP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), and some food banks are equipped to assist in providing a larger range of healthy alternatives for families with dietary restrictions.  However, the increasing number of seniors with dietary restrictions poses a significant challenge (Conway, 2016).
The current proposal by the Trump administration for the Harvest Basket program reduces the amount of benefits by half, replacing it with food.  Without taking into consideration these specialized diets or dietary restrictions, much of this food will be wasted.  There are two alternatives.  The first would be to pair up cross-departmentally with Medicare, and possibly Medicaid, to have doctors or nutritionists identify these individuals that have dietary restrictions and treat the diets or correct food as a prescription.  The cost of the food could then either be granted as a stipend on the EBT card as supplemental income required to pay for the additional food or, since Medicare and Medicaid are being involved, a deductible could be paid.
The second would be to reclassify the foods that are in the system and change the benefit structure to encourage purchase of healthier alternatives.  With the help of a nutritionist, help the consumer to make healthy choices.  Certain items could be 50% of regular cost (beans, rice, fruits & vegetables, skim milk, juice), certain items could be full cost (regular grocery items), and certain items that are “unhealthy choices” (sugary sodas) could also be full cost but not tax exempt.  This alternative could help promote healthier diets and reduce the perception of fraud in the system.

Enforcement and Penalties

Food stamp fraud is considered rampant, anecdotally.  There are also stories about people buying lobsters and filet mignon with their EBT cards, purchasing beer and cigarettes with cash, and then getting into their brand-new Escalade and driving away.  In truth, the reality of fraud in the SNAP program is much less dramatic. 
The period from 2012-2014 saw a record-high level of fraud in the system, with $1.1 billion wasted.  But that needs to be put in perspective.  The cost of providing nutritional assistance is $72.1 billion. Therefore, the amount of fraud is about 1.5 percent of all of the money spent (Willey, et al., 2017).  Continued diligence and investigation by law enforcement should keep this number low.
Consumer misuse is a perspective issue.  If a customer was to go into a grocery store and purchase gluten free bread and soy milk, would it be ok if they used SNAP?  What if they bought Coca Cola and Twinkies?  Why should someone who requires assistance not have the right to purchase what they please?  Does a person who is poor not have the right to have something they might enjoy, and if not at what point does it become the business of the government?  SNAP limits purchases of many items including hot foods ready-to-eat.  Some states, including Maine, have attempted to limit the purchase of junk food and sugary soda but have been blocked from doing so. 
Ultimately, solutions to the fraud issues come down to the enforcement of existing laws and elimination of the stigma of the “Ideology of the Dole”.  Adoption of new programs like the Harvest Box will potentially open up new fraud issues including disposal or resale of unwanted or undesirable food.  It is also possible that disreputable retailers may resell some of this food to make up for the loss of revenue from SNAP sales.

Two key theories of American Government

In discussing SNAP, two key theories underlie the issues:  America as the welfare state and Federalism.  Within the Twentieth century, there have been two periods that solidified America into a welfare state: the 1930s with Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the 1960s with Johnson’s Great Society.  Roosevelt’s first 100 days were marked by the rapid approval of relief legislation that included the Emergency Conservation Work Act (which created the Civilian Conservation Corps), the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Federal Emergency Recovery Act (FERA) (Trowbridge, 2017).  Johnson’s Great Society was focused on his “War on Poverty.” Important programs during his administration included the Economic Opportunity Act, the Food Stamp Act, Head Start, and expansions to Social Security.  Both presidents undertook massive political efforts to protect and enhance the health and well-being of all Americans.  Their efforts fundamentally shifted the way America views its government.
In creating a welfare state, significant financial expenditures were required.  These were done at both the state and national level.  For example, Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Recovery Act provided $3 billion to the states for direct payments and to create jobs in various public works projects (Trowbridge, 2017).  But the Social Security Act of 1935 (and subsequent changes and expansions, including Johnson’s) were completely Federal programs.  Food Stamps, and later SNAP, were designed more like FERA as they were federally funded but state run.  This is a clear example of Federalism.


Assessing the Current Political Climate

The President, the House, and the Senate are all currently Republican controlled.  Historically, there is little expansion in domestic entitlement programs under these conditions.  The current Congress and Administration is trying to cut entitlement programs.  The controversial Affordable Care Act is their primary target, but along the way programs like The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) were temporarily defunded.  The government shut down as part of the budget battle as well.  Major recommendations have been proposed that would alter SNAP have been proposed, from block grants, to ABAWD, to Harvest Boxes.  The future for those that are battling hunger and food insecurity and rely on SNAP and other governmental nutrition program is bleak. 
However, Congress is currently drafting the 2018 Farm Bill.  The “Three-point plan for Reform” would need to be addressed now and while the bill is in subcommittee.  Once the 2018 Farm Bill is cleared through the Nutrition Subcommittee and then the House Committee on Agriculture, it may be too late to make any effective change.  When the bill reaches the floor of the House of Representatives, it will most likely pass.  It is important that we communicate with our Congressional Representatives and Senators to recommend this plan as well as other possible alternatives.  Invite them to local food pantries and soup kitchens so they can see the problem of hunger in their own communities.

Three Rebuttal Arguments

Abuse of the System

SNAP has been characterized by some as an out-of-control entitlement program, with participants becoming dependent on their monthly benefits.  Furthermore, participants get trapped in a cycle of dependency on government handouts, and the program is ineffective against reducing hunger.
The participants in SNAP tend to be food insecure, and the SNAP is not designed to provide the entire food budget, but a supplement.  When comparing the number of people relying on SNAP against the number of people at the 130% of poverty line, the trends track identically (Center on Budget, 2017).  Poverty is a trap that is hard to get out of.  But people do improve their situation.  The average person receiving SNAP benefits participates between 37 and 48 months (United States Census Bureau, 2015).  Ultimately, as Roy Jarrard said, “We want to run out of hungry people someday and go out of business.”

Drug Users

The 2014 Farm Bill did not include changes to broad-based categorical eligibility or a state option to drug test SNAP applicants; these options have been included in House proposals.  (Johnson & Monke, 2017).  Many people feel that drug testing should be mandatory for SNAP participants just as it is for welfare recipients.
Not all states are testing welfare recipients, and each state that requires testing handles it differently.  The cost involved could be very high if all 46 million SNAP recipients were required to undergo mandatory screenings.  However, if new applicants were screened based on certain pre-determined (or random) criteria, costs could be limited to the workhours required to screen the candidate.  Even then, would the potential savings found from denying a positive drug user offset the cost of the labor and testing?
There is no denying that drug abuse is an issue.  Roy Jarrard pointed out that a lot of the newer, younger clients at Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes are meth addicts.  This may be due to high unemployment and poverty in the Wilkes County, North Carolina area, the Appalachian region, or it may be indicative of the entire United States.

Disproportionate use of the system versus Demographics

African-Americans and illegal immigrants are very often cited as the primary users, and abusers, of SNAP.  But in February of 2015, Mississippi state legislator, Gene Alday, a Republican, had to issue an apology for telling a reporter that all the African-Americans in his hometown of Walls, Mississippi, are unemployed and on food stamps (Le Coz, 2015).  Undocumented immigrants have never been permitted to receive SNAP benefits (USDA, 2017).
The USDA reports that nationally, most of the people who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are white.  Roy Jarrard concurred, “Our clients here match the demographics of [Wilkes] county.”

Is a new law necessary?

From an appropriations standpoint, the 2018 Farm Bill is necessary.  The problem is, anytime the act is reviewed, the provisions it contains become politicized.  This year’s Farm Bill is critical to the survival of SNAP in its present form.  Block grants, ABAWD, Harvest Boxes, and even drug testing, are all points up for debate that may change program.  There are areas and opportunities within SNAP that could make it more effective.  Adding the three-point proposal listed in this report into the Farm Act could help better regulate while expand services and potentially cut costs.  Otherwise, a new legislation or regulation is not necessary.

Why Representative Foxx and Senator Burr should consider this proposal

“We will launch a special effort in the chronically distressed areas of Appalachia” (Johnson, 1964).  Living in the Wilkes County, NC, in the Foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, I have seen the generational cycles of poverty.  Representative Foxx is the Congressional Representative over this district and has seen the crisis of hunger and food insecurity first hand.  In August of 2016, Ms. Foxx toured Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes as it played host for a roundtable on hunger.  During the meeting, Sue and James Watts, local residents, SNAP recipients, and clients of Samaritans explained about their particular situation.  The Watts have custody of one grandchild and one great-grandchild.  They are on a fixed income and only receive $74 per month in Food Stamps.  After utilities bills, they have a choice every month of either buying food or medicine.  Thus, they come to Samaritan Kitchen monthly for food (Dunn, 2016).  The Watts’s story is not unique in Appalachia, or the United States.
The Watts’s are examples of a family that could take advantage of the second part of the three-point plan.  With better benefits that tied in with their Medicad and Medicare, they might be able to receive additional food for a low co-pay and they might be able to get lower priced more nutritious food.
As the Representative for the district, and the Senator for the state respectively, one would hope that our local politicians would see the logic and merit to these proposals and work with the Congress and the Senate to pass common sense legislation that would help the most impoverished among us.


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Johnson, R. & Monke, J. (2017) What is the Farm Bill? Congressional Research Service. RS22131.  Pg.  9 – 10. Retrieved from
LaRose, E. (2016). No More Free Lunch. Econ Focus, 20(1), 8.
Le Coz, E. (2015, 2 17). Rep. Alday publicly apologizes for race-tinged remarks. Retrieved from Clarion Ledger:
NCDHHS. (2016). Food and Nutrition Services FSs245.  North Carolina DHHS On-Line Manuals. Retrieved from
Redden, M. (2013). This is why food stamp reliance has exploded. New Republic. Downloaded from
Rose, N. E. (1989). Work relief in the 1930s and the origins of the Social Security Act. Social Service Review, 63(1), 63–91.
Trowbridge, D. J. (2017). A history of the United States: 1865 to present. Asheville, NC: Soomo Learning. Available from
United States Census Bureau. (2015, 05 28). Retrieved from 21.3 Percent of U.S. Population Participates in Government Assistance Programs Each Month:
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USDA. (2018, 02 02). FY15 through FY18 National View Summary. Retrieved from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
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Vilsack, T. (2018, 01 16). What the 2018 farm bill means for urban, suburban and rural America. Retrieved from The Conversation:
Weill, D. A. (2017, 3 3). President, Congress must protect programs that keep hunger at bay. Retrieved from The Hill:
Willey, J. & Fetting, N., & Hale, M. (2017). The Extent of Trafficking in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: 2012–2014. USDA. Retrieved from
Wilson, J. Q. (2017). American Government Institutions and Policies. Cengage Learning. 66
Wimer, C. &. (2013). Trends in Poverty with an Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure. New York: CUNY.
Woodhill, L. (2014). Opinion: The War on Poverty Wasn't A Failure -- It Was A Catastrophe. Forbes. Retrieved from

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Movie Review: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Author's Note:

Apparently I am the last person to see this movie.  Additionally, I have managed not to have it spoiled for me.  So I was able to sit down and watch this movie fresh.

Movie Review: There Will Be Blood (2007)

Once again, this movie has been out for some time, so of course there will be some spoilers.  I assume that, unlike me, you may probably have seen this movie.  Please feel free to comment below.


Yes, that was the book I used in 1987
Transcendentalism in American Literature; I really despise the whole literary movement.   I almost failed Sophomore year English class because I understood it better than the teacher and at one point I was fed up and mocked her in a paper.   However, I can appreciate a fine piece of art even when I don't like some of the tropes it uses.  Such is the case with There Will Be Blood.  The movie is all about people conning people.  Everyone has a con.  Everybody wants something.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

Author's Note:

The cinema is a true form of art.  It should be considered high art along with paintings, sculpture, literature, and music.  One could even argue that the cinema is a combination of all of these into one.

I enjoy the cinema.  I love a good movie.  What is a good movie?  It is a good story, told well, acted well, presented in an aesthetic way that enhances the narrative. 

Not every movie has to move me.  Sometimes I just want to go to a movie for mindless fun.  I want to eat some popcorn, drink some soda, and enjoy the time with my family and friends as we watch explosions on the screen.  Other times, I get the opportunity to watch a movie that is more subtle.  

Movie Review: Nebraska

Since this movie has been out for some time, and was nominated for an Oscar, I feel I can include some  spoilers.  Yes I will be giving away the ending.  Since I do recommend you see this film, if this is an important factor to you please do not read any further than this paragraph.  You will be seeing a slow paced, melodramatic, black and white film.  This is not Bruce Dern's finest work but he does a very good job.  Will Forte is very understated in his best performance to date.  This movie is not for the Michael Bay crowd.


Woody Grant, patriarch of the family, believes he has won a million dollars in a “Publishers Clearing House”-esque style giveaway.  Not trusting the US mail, he sets out on foot from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim the prize.  Woody's youngest son, David has just broken up with his girlfriend and needs some time away so agrees to drive his father to Lincoln to humor him.  Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody and Kate's hometown.  Woody tells people about winning the money.  David tries to explain that it is the misunderstanding of a confused old man but the town thinks he is lying.  The trip and stop in Hawthorne reveals to David much about Woody's past and his character.

The Good:

The cast and the acting is spot on.  In watching this movie I don't see one person that is THAT ACTOR first and the character second (think Tom Cruise). You are watching the Grant family deal with the aging alcohol-addled (I won't call him an alcoholic) patriarch and his delusional fantasy that he won a million dollars.  The unmentioned elephant in the room is that the elder Grant appears to be suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.  Bruce Dern portrays a man dealing with disorientation, mood swings, and behavioral issues including wandering off.  He does not appear to be motivated to care for himself or his family or society.  The question becomes, is this due to age or has he been driven to this by his wife, wonderfully portrayed by June Squibb. June's character of Kate Grant could have been left as a simple one dimensional construct, but the writing and supporting characters flesh out her foibles and hypocrisy.

The cast is rounded out by Bob Odenkirk as the “successful” brother Ross and finally, brilliantly by Stacy Keach as Ed Peagram.

The cinematography is almost a character in itself.  Normally I would look at a black and white movie as an attempt to be art-house, instead I see this as almost a tribute to Ansel Adams work.

As we travel with David and Woody we experience the incredible vistas as well as the small towns.  The beauty is breathtaking.

The Bad:

This story is formulaic and there are no huge surprises here.  You could tell that Ed was going to get his comeuppance and that Woody was going to be humiliated.   It's not even a real surprise that Ross and David try to steal an air compressor and that it goes wrong.  If you are watching Nebraska for an exciting plot, you will be disappointed.

However, If you are looking for a solid story, acted well by terrific actors in beautiful scenery then watch this movie.  This movie was well deserving of it's Oscar nomination.

Final Score:  88 / 100


1. Michael Bay Explosion:
2. Where Should Lucky Travel to Next?
3. Strange Romance: A Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes Photo Album
4. Ansel Adams, The Tetons and The Snake River (1942)

Friday, August 14, 2015

Movie Review: Fantastic Four

Author's note: 

For quite some time I have been reviewing films on I have over 500 movies rated there.  There are some great features on their site, including recommendations and a ranking system.  I love being able to leave reviews and read other people's reviews.  Unfortunately, the "mini-reviews" are a little short, limited to 500 characters. Starting with this review, I hope to start writing some movie reviews.  Additionally, I'd like to revive this blog. It may be some time until I reacquire my domain name, but for now I appear to be back!

Movie Review:  Fantastic Four


Let's cut to the chase shall we. This is a bad review. As such, to be able to explain why I didn't like it I have to explain about parts of the movie.  SPOILERS abound.  If you want to see this movie, don't read this review.  I didn't like this movie and I don't want you to waste your money on it. Go see another movie if you want to see a movie.  Or better yet, if you want to do something in the actual spirit of the Fantastic Four, do something science-y.  Go to a local museum or planetarium.  And do it with your family.  Because ultimately that's what the Fantastic Four is supposed to be: a family using science together.  Oh yeah, if you find a mole man, you can beat it up.

The Good

While choppy the first act built up nicely. The relationship between Ben (Evan Hannemann) and Reed (Owen Judge) starting in the 5th grade is explored briefly and should have set up their relationship for the whole movie a little better.  Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) chews up his small role throughout the movie. Fast forward to the accident. It has serious shades of David Cronenberg's "The Fly" and is the last good part of the film.

If you want to see a good movie about teleportation, watch THIS one instead.

The Bad

A lot of this movie is missing. I think the director has been blamed for it but I think It was written by committee. I am not willing to make Josh Trank public enemy #1 for this movie. The first act has a completely different feel than the rest. Did they lose the missing parts of the movie on the printer? Did they accidentally delete the file and use the backup to film from?  Seriously, did they try to shoehorn in 30 different possible plots and take out the wrong ones?  After the first act the movie becomes horrendously bad with one exception which even then was a "Direction Not Taken".

Finally, I don't need my intelligence insulted. The filmmakers felt the need to explain why Sue is white and Johnny and their father is black by saying she's adopted. Why did they even bring up the subject. I didn't care.  It's 2015.  We are striving towards a more accepting society, free of prejudice based on religion, sexual orientation, or skin color.  By pointing this out and then further explaining it to the audience, the writers are insulting the movie going public.  It was another hiccup in the flow of the movie.
If the writers wanted an example on you to showcase tolerance, I highly recommend review of the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who.  The inclusion of multiracial and/or same sex couples was commonplace. There was no one holding a sign going, "Look you stupid, ignorant, hate filled people. This is how you should be." Change wasn't slow.  Change wasn't subtle.  Change was there and it was accepted and we all moved along.  Fantastic Four's producers, writers, and/or director felt the need to say, "Look at us!  We are progressive and changed Johnny Storm's race.  And you are a hateful prick if you don't like it."  Let me lay this out for you, if Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm) did a good job with the part then it isn't going to matter.  With the material he was presented I think he did a fine job.  No one is winning any Oscars here.

The Really Bad

Victor Von Doom.  Dr. Doom is the classic Marvel Universe bad guy.  You really can't screw him up that badly if you stick with the formula from the comics.  Even there, they have toyed with his background and origins enough that the filmmakers had a lot of latitude.  Even the Ultimate Universe changed his name to Victor Van Damm (which actually I kind of like).  In this movie he is reduced to a brooding, jealous, hipster genius who is either written or played so flat that were he anyone else than Victor Von-fricking-Doom he'd be completely forgettable instead of unforgivable.  This movie could have been salvaged with the proper writing and acting JUST IN THIS PART! 

Moving on to post-accident Doom. W.T.F. um... how... ummm... oh yeah... I mentioned there must have been missing pages to the script. That's how he knew about the Fantastic Four.  That's how he knew about their powers. That's how he was able to come up with that diabolical plan even though he'd been stranded on planet Zero alone with no technology for over a year.

Look it's Dr. Doom!

Dr. Doom is overpowered, way overpowered.  He is now Telekinetic.  Plus, he seems to really have a thing for popping peoples brains ("Scanners" style). He stays seriously overpowered UNTIL the climax battle of course. A climax where we discover that the team can't defeat them separately but they have to work together.  With all of the murders Dr. Doom commits, he easily could have killed the FF the same way,   Instead we are treated to potentially hundreds of collateral innocent deaths.  We're not talking Man of Steel high, but there's no sweeping this under the rug.

They eventually defeat Dr. Doom.  Yippie.  They become a team.  Yippie.  They get a secret research base.  Yippie.  They come up with  name.  Yippie.  Is it time to go yet?

The Direction Not Taken

There were missed opportunities throughout this movies.  You can see threads of stories that they abandoned.  For example, there was a very "Incredible Hulk" feel during part of the movie as the team searched for Reed. I think there was another treatment of the script with the hope of negotiating a tie into the MCU.  It would have been a great opportunity for Reed and Bruce Banner to get together out in the jungles of South America. Bruce could serve as a mentor to young Reed. Then when they are discovered there could have been an epic battle between the Hulk and the Thing (as well as expansion of the whole Natasha betrays Bruce line). But instead we get about five minutes of retread.  We've seen it.  many times.  And it was done better every time.

Final Score

I am being very generous with this score because I really thought the first act had promise and the accident scene was quite good.  A snarkier version of me would give this 4 out of 100, but that's not fair or honest.  Here's the take away.  This is a bad film.  It should not have been released.  It represents everything that is wrong in Superhero filmmaking and in Hollywood in general.  It was made to keep rights for the franchise at Fox.  It insults the intelligence of the film going public and comic book fans.

  • Do not see this movie in the theater.  
  • Do not see it on RedBox or Netflix.  
  • Do not purchase it when it hits the dollar bin at Walmart, which it will.

This movie is bad enough that several careers in Hollywood may have ended.  Sadly none of them are the executives at Twentieth Century Fox.

Final Score: 24 / 100


The reaction in the theater should really sum this up.  There were people sleeping (as in more than one). A couple of employees came in to clean up afterward and asked me what I thought. They were afraid of going to see it since the Rotten Tomatoes score was half of the score that Pixels had. My answer to them was that they will be issuing refunds on this movie.


1. Mole Man:
2. Comic Book Guy: The Comic Book–The Collector’s Edition #1, Bongo Comics.
3 "Golden Raspberry Award" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -