Congressman Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma (R) displayed a contemptuous attitude towards food stamp recipients and complete ignorance of how the program works when he blasted a couple who was “physically fit” as fraudulent criminals because they bought groceries with an EBT card in Crystal City, Virginia. His only evidence of fraud was that the couple looked “physically fit”. The story may be entirely apocryphal since Congressman Mullin said “everybody” in the store was using EBT cards. Unless he was going into each checkout lane and peering over each customer’s shoulder like a creepy stalker, it is not clear how Mullin came to this conclusion, except that it fits the narrative that he wants to convey.
In his self-righteous diatribe against this alleged food stamp fraud Mullin remarks that he saw a couple and:
they were both physically fit. And they go up in front of me and they pay with that card. Fraud. Absolute 100% all it is is fraud…it’s all over the place. And there you go, to the fact that we shouldn’t be supporting those who won’t work. They’re spending their money someplace.
Apparently even though Mr. Mullin is a Congressman he believes that all people receiving food stamps do not work. Yet, many adults on food stamps do work for a living and in Virginia a couple can qualify for food assistance if their gross income is under 1640 dollars a month. If this couple has two children they could qualify even if they made up to 2498 a month.
Based on no evidence to support his belief, Mullin just assumes that the couple does not work, but since he does not know their circumstances it is entirely possible that this couple not only works but that they are also supporting children. If they have two children and each parent works 30 hours a week at nine dollars an hour, they would still qualify for food stamps, because 540 dollars a week in Northern Virginia is not enough to pay for rent, day care and transportation.
The couple Congressman Mullin observed might be physically fit from having to walk or ride a bike to work. They might not have a car or they might be choosing to conserve on gas money in order to stretch their food stamps far enough so they can buy healthy food on their limited incomes. This is no small task since their monthly food stamp allotment based on earning 540 dollars a week as a couple would come out to around 65 dollars a month allotment for food stamps, or two dollars a day for a family of four. Trying to buy healthy food for less than a dollar a meal is difficult, it would be easier for them to buy Ramen noodles and potato chips, but if they are saving on fuel costs so they can buy themselves and their kids fruits and vegetables, good for them.
Of course, I do not know the couple in question so my hypothetical assumptions could be wrong, but Mr. Mullin assumes the worst in people, while I presume that the American people are by and large honest and hardworking. I also assume that people who are physically fit probably are not lazy. Keeping in shape especially on a limited income where plentiful junk foods are cheaper and easier to come by (compare the cost of a carton of orange juice or milk to a 2-liter of soda for example) is no easy task and a lazy person might not be up to the task. The truth is Congressman Mullin is the one who is being lazy, by jumping to unfounded assumptions that regard the American people as contemptible creatures bent on milking the system. Rather than giving them the benefit of the doubt, and thinking they might be trying to do all they can to keep their families fed and healthy, Mullin assumes they are lazy. He however demonstrates his own laziness instead by not researching the program he so arrogantly criticizes.
The fraud rate in the SNAP program has been reduced to around one percent of cases, so there is around a 99 percent chance that the couple Markwayne Mullin saw was not engaging in fraud. This is nearly 180 degrees opposite Mullin’s claim that he thinks there is a one hundred percent chance they were committing fraud. In all likelihood, the only fraud standing in that grocery store was Congressman Mullin himself who routinely votes against increasing the minimum wage and then chastises the working poor for trying their hardest to stay fit and feed their families.
Maybe the next time Congressman Mullin goes grocery shopping, instead of peering over the shoulders of his fellow citizens to see if they are using an EBT card, he can mind his own business and concentrate on what he needs to buy, rather than trying to disparage hardworking Americans for trying to eat. Perhaps he would prefer that we do not offer food stamps until men, women and children are completely emaciated and so weak they are unable to stand up without assistance. If so, perhaps he can convey that message to his constituents and see if they agree. The couple in front of him in line may have been physically fit, but the man standing behind them peeking over their shoulders hardly seems fit to hold elected office.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.