Congressman Wants People To Spy On Food Stamp Users At The Grocery Store

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empty grocery cartIt’s trash day here in Wisconsin, and today the sack of garbage I’m here to leave on the curb is freshman congressman Glenn Grothman. Grothman, who as a congressman will get paid $175,000 to work just 132 days this year, is concerned about the possibility that welfare and food stamps will make people lazy. His solution? Have his constituents spy on each other to make sure food stamp recipients are buying the ‘right’ things at the grocery store.

Grothman, who has apparently been jotting down policy notes from a close reading of 1984, made his request for a grocery store game of Spy vs. Spy at a town hall in his home district in Wisconsin last week. From the Oshkosh Northwestern (via Jezebel):

Grothman said he hears stories about seemingly able-bodied people receiving disability payments, Social Security payments and Food Share benefits. He told the people in attendance to keep an eye on the types of things people on Food Share buy at the grocery store or ask people for more information if they boast about being on disability.

“I would argue some people are arranging their life to be on Food Share,” Grothman said. “You just look at them and kind of wonder.”

It must be nice to have the sort of very obscure superpower that allows you to diagnose disability just by looking at someone. I wonder if Grothman ever considered using his spectacular and unique talent in the medical field before turning to politics? I imagine hospitals could save a lot of money on MRIs, X-rays, and laboratory tests when they could just have Grothman squint at a patient and say, “Nope, you’re fine” instead.
I’m not sure what constitutes ‘arranging your life’ to be on food stamps, either. Does Grothman think people are really enjoying working 70 hours a week at two different McDonald’s and still not making enough money to feed their families? If that lifestyle is so appealing and awesome, why doesn’t Grothman leave Congress and leech off the system instead?
Jezebel points out that this is hardly the first time Grothman has gotten his panties in a twist over people not performing their poverty to his liking–they link out to an old newsletter of his where he complains about people on food stamps having anything nice whatsoever: non-generic products, soda, candy; or the truly cardinal sin of paying with food stamps and then buying cigarettes or alcohol in a separate transaction:
Observations of people who work in food stores indicate that many people who use food stamps do not act as if they are genuinely poor. […] I’ve interviewed over a dozen people who check out people who pay with food stamps and all felt people on food stamps ate better – or at least more costly – than they did. A store manager up north says she can tell who is on food stamps and who is not by what’s in their shopping cart.
Yeah, I’m sure Grothman got completely honest responses by pitting low-income cashiers against low-income food stamp recipients.
During the town hall, Grothman named welfare fraud as one of the three biggest problems currently facing Congress, and I partly disagree. There is a big problem related to welfare fraud, but it’s not the number of people committing it (which is actually very low). The big problem is the amount of time wasted by politicians on trying to punish poor people for being poor by chasing this imaginary ‘welfare fraud’ unicorn around. We need to get rid of the idea that making poverty anything but a never-ending, joyless slog through store-brand bagged cereal and rice will have people lining up in droves to sign up. Then maybe we can start doing something really wacky: like spending time on actually improving the lives of people who need food assistance.
(Image: gyn9038 / Getty)