A bill proposed by Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin (R-55) to prohibit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients from using their benefits to purchase seafood is part of a longstanding effort by conservative politicians to stigmatize the poor. Brattin’s proposed Missouri House Bill 813, would prohibit SNAP beneficiaries from using their EBT card to purchase “cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak”.
While it may be understandable that lawmakers might want to ban taxpayer dollars being spent on food that has no nutritional value like soda, energy drinks, and cookies, the justification for banning seafood is far more dubious. Furthermore, the rationale for banning specific types of food is based more in right-wing mythology about the poor people eating lavishly off of SNAP (more commonly referred to by critics as “food stamps”) benefits than it is based on any objective reality.
The reality is that, on average, SNAP recipients actually make healthier grocery decisions than most American with higher incomes. This, however, has not stopped Republicans from making outlandish claims about spotting EBT card users making lavish purchases in the checkout aisle.
Perhaps taking his cues from the many such apocryphal stories online, Rep. Brattin claims:
I have seen people purchasing filet mignons and crab legs with their EBT cards. When I can’t afford it on my pay, I don’t want people on the taxpayer’s dime to afford those kinds of foods either.
Apparently, unlike most shoppers, the eagle-eyed State Representative is more concerned about what the person in front of him is purchasing, rather than what he is putting in his own shopping cart.
He also seems to argue that SNAP recipients can eat better than he does. That claim, of course, is ludicrous, given that an individual single adult without children to feed can qualify for up to 194 dollars a month in SNAP benefits. Brattin, on the other hand, earns a state legislative salary of 35, 915 dollars annually. With 3,000 dollars a month in pay and another 103.20 in daily per diem allowance, Brattin can certainly afford seafood and steak more readily than any EBT recipient. This is the case, even if we don’t factor in his non-legislative income from his family’s construction business.
Brattin’s proposal, like so many other GOP proposals that target the poor, has nothing to do with saving taxpayer money or getting low-income people to eat more healthily. Instead, the proposal is part of the GOP’s effort to stigmatize the poor as people who make bad choices and who cheat the system to live “high on the hog”. Brattin’s stories have little basis in reality. However, that hardly matters.
As long as Brattin can get voters to continue to focus on the imaginary injustice of poor people ripping off taxpayers to enjoy lobster dinners, he can continue to support policies that enrich the already wealthy at the expense of the middle class. When middle-class voters spend their time peering into the shopping carts of the poor, they will overlook the policies being enacted that are continually feeding the gluttony of the extremely wealthy, at the expense of everyone else.
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.