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Gary Horton: Time to trim some public and private fat

Posted: May 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Through their anti-Obama, obstructionist regime, Republicans have at least done one thing right — they have attuned Americans to waste in government spending.

It turns out they are right that we don’t like paying taxes, and when we pay them, we want them to go to efficient and good use. Let’s give the Repubs some credit for the thought.

So let’s say it again, in a Santa Clarita Cambia kind of moment:

"We don’t like paying taxes, and when we pay them, we want them to go to efficient and good use."

Many conservative Santa Claritans will be pleased to read that I too hate government waste. I recently learned of some stand-out waste on a road trip back from Lake Mead in a van full of Democrats and one lone Republican.

Someplace near Barstow, Republican Steve started talking about "EBTs," and he didn’t stop until somewhere near Victorville, which I learned, is essentially EBT Ground Zero.

As we passed various desert burger joints and liquor stores, Steve pointed out, over and again, the "WE TAKE EBTs" signs prominently posted on street corners.

Have you ever noticed the term "EBT" pop up whilst checking out from the grocery story credit card scanner? "EBT" stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer, which basically stands for the Cal Fresh program, which used to be food stamps, but now intends to provide food for the poor without the shame of users having to fumble with coupons while checking out of the grocery line.

I understand that no one likes to be embarrassed, so we now have food stamps as handy and invisible as regular credit cards. Good enough, but we’ve also expanded the program so capitalists themselves looking for one more government hand-out distort it.

Good enough, but we also promote the easy-to-use system until it’s abused by takers not really in need.

Good enough, but when we normalize government handouts poverty is encouraged instead of mitigated. How can such bad come from the simple concept of helping people obtain the food they need?

The fast food industry lobbied the federal SNAP food stamp folks, and now you can get burgers and fries and two apple pies with that — and even McFlurries with your Cal Fresh EBT card.

Nearly 6 million Americans have EBT cards, so your local junk food joint certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on this new federal bonanza.

Meanwhile, a coworker from up in California’s farm belt grimaced when I mentioned Cal Fresh, as he has extended family and friends selling their Cal Fresh cards to buy alcohol. Apparently, selling your EBTs for booze, smokes, and other vice is fairly common in areas where the cards are in high use.

Credit the LDS Church for doing food assistance the right way. That church has "Bishop Storehouses" where needy LDS members go to receive needed food, per a shopping list developed with their bishop. No cash, so no graft. No McFlurries, either.

There’s also the questionable efficacy of our entire benefits culture. Surely the elderly, the infirm, the acutely poor deserve public assistance.

But California encourages dependency where abusers and gamers realize significantly subsidized housing, free medical for children, Cal Fresh for food, and other bennies almost as rewards for doing poorly.

Good system gamers can create a $50,000 pre-tax lifestyle on $18,000 jobs. It seems nice we can help out that way, until you recognize it diminishes the incentives to advance when the likely outcome in today’s economy won’t exceed what all these benefits provide in the poor status quo.

So much for working hard. Subsidizing generational poverty is never good policy; the cost only grows as generationally crippled families multiply.

Cal Fresh and SNAP began as a thoughtful idea to help people who need help the most. But do we really have to supply burgers and fries and corporate and private dependency with that?

It’s a fun thing to "drive up and pay at the second window," but is diabetes-creating junk food subsidies really what public aid should be about?

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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