On Saturday, the EBT cards for the SNAP program (what most of us still think of as “food stamps,” I believe) went down for about 22 minutes. At first people thought it was part of the government shutdown (and even threatened to riot) but it turns out to have been an incredibly unlucky coincidence.
When the computers were brought back online, apparently the spending limits weren’t in place yet. And in some places, people pretty much used this as an opportunity to loot the store with their cards.
If you don’t feel like looking at the link, people charged eight to ten shopping carts full of food on their EBT cards at some WalMart locations. Then when the announcement came that the EBT cards were back online with their full limits again, people just abandoned their carts in the aisles.
Here’s the thing: we know this is wrong. From the outside, it’s theft. It’s fraud (and apparently welfare fraud bans you from the system for life, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens next. The computers might not have known how much the limits were, but I bet they were keeping track of who used the cards and how much went on them.)
I don’t know if they’ll ban those individuals for life, but I’d sure as heck ban them from my store. And it would be appropriate if they got their SNAP benefits garnished at 25% a month until they paid it all back.
But what kind of mentality leads to that kind of action? From the outside, these individuals are getting free food from the government. They’re getting free food. It may not be a lot of free food, but how many other major world empires have given out free food to their citizens just because the citizens were having a tough time? Do you think you could just go down to the government office in Ancient Greece and ask for free food? (Apparently you could in Ancient Rome.) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books would be totally different if Pa could just have gone down to the mercantile and asked for a few free sacks of flour and a few dozen free eggs.
My first thought is, really, that the people who could even consider this aren’t people who’ve ever really faced hunger.
I know people who’ve reluctantly signed up for help feeding their families because life just got away from them. Unexpected medical bills, sudden job loss, other issues that could happen to anyone. They’d made responsible decisions all their lives, worked hard, and now the system they’d worked to support was going to get the privilege of supporting them until they were back on their feet.
I cannot imagine anyone starting with the relief that comes from knowing someone will help, then turning around and taking hundreds of dollars in food.
Where’s the mentality coming from, then? It’s got to be that some people view the government assistance as a game. It’s part of a game you play, the game of getting as much as you can, winning whatever you can grab. Working the system right, filling out the right forms, giving the right answers. And then, when you find a loophole, using the loophole. Because the system isn’t something you’re contributing to — it’s something you live within and therefore something you are to some extent trying to manipulate. There’s got to be anger. And maybe there’s got to be hopelessness.