Hipsters on Food Stamps: Why You Shouldn’t Hate Them

The Oregonian shined a light on the amount of fraud in SNAP / food stamps qualifications and usage and proposed measures to clean it up – Should Oregon pay $1.5 million to put photos on food stamps, welfare cards? Lawmakers consider fraud reduction options. It just so happens I just finished reading Salon’s Hipsters on food stamps an article that appeared back in 2010 about young, college educated folks who qualify and purchase food that you wouldn’t consider a frugal buy.

People who defraud SNAP are criminals. SNAP isn’t free. Stores aren’t trading SNAP points for magical food that doesn’t cost them or us as tax payers. SNAP money comes from tax payers, which means people who defraud SNAP are taking money away from better uses; government not investigating is enabling a mentality that defrauding the government isn’t a crime against its citizens and that SNAP money is an unlimited resource. The sort of lack of moral judgement that goes into defrauding SNAP enables the same sort of decisions that go into other crimes. It is paralleled by government lassitude towards enforcement. Together, they are like an enabling couple of heroin addicts with the public paying for hits. If government pursues and punishes SNAP defrauders, they will also likely uncover other crimes that fit a similar pattern, such as organized shop-lifting and identity theft (make no mistake, much of the defrauding of SNAP is identity theft – they’ve misidentified themselves).

Yes Oregon Legislature – enforcement is going to cost us. Pay for it with asset seizures and reduced overhead of costs of investigating other crimes these same criminals are committing.

Back to those Hipsters. There’s no great definition of what a Hipster is, but I will generalize in that someone who is labeled a hipster is one among many hated group of youngish, white, mostly college educated middle class people with questionable fashion sense and political opinions – characterized as undeserving of what they have. Is that about right? How much of this is thinly veiled racism and reverse racism – would you feel the same way if they were non-college educated and Black (or the virtually invisible Asian)?

Hipsters are hit with hard times too. Our government made it possible to get SNAP based on the amount of work you have, ie income, not what you actually own or have in the bank. There’s no judgement there about the time of work you do, and almost none over the type of food you can purchase with SNAP. I posit that the problem people have with Hipsters and SNAP, outside of the possible racism, is what they are buying and then, those rules apply to everyone; and there’s a second problem that has nothing to do with SNAP. If you don’t like that Hipsters are buying gourmet food and holding dinner parties on SNAP, then cut back on what SNAP buyers can buy.

That second problem is that the income shortfall necessary to get SNAP is not being addressed – the perception that Hipsters lack motivation or ability or both to pursue work that puts food on the table and gets them off the SNAP roles. That again has to apply to everyone who is able bodied to work. There are jobs available that the unemployed or underemployed can do, but unemployed or underemployed people who do not want to do them; and then there are many who are on SNAP who as caregivers have limited hours for outside work and therefore have lower incomes.  That’s not a Hipster problem – that’s a societal problem that has nothing to do with Hipsters and SNAP.



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