Some myths never die, they just get recycled with every passing generation.
Back in the 1970s, the first time Ronald Reagan ran for president, he spun a tale about “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps. Not because it had happened, let alone because he had witnessed it, but rather, because he knew it would play well with a public predisposed to think the worst of persons receiving so-called “welfare” benefits. Especially if the persons they were asked to imagine were black (as was surely the case here, given the longstanding racialized term Reagan had used).
Since then, I’ve heard one or another version of the T-bone story, always updated to sound even more profligate and thus to enrage a public raised on anti-welfare rhetoric for at least a half-century. First, the T-bone morphed into the more prestigious filet mignon, then shrimp, and most recently “king crab legs,” when described by U.S. Congressman Louis Gohmert on the floor of the House a few years ago.
To hear these stories, one would believe — and they are told so that you will believe — that poor people are regularly living it up at taxpayer expense and gorging themselves on cuisine that most Americans can’t afford. And it is this indignity — that people on food stamps are eating better than you — that is most calculated to inflame the passions.
Thus, the other part of these stories always involves the witness to food stamp gluttony seething as they sheepishly or perhaps angrily take the pedestrian ground chuck from their own basket, now rendered the equivalent of a culinary cuckold to the dishonest and shameless grifter paying for Lobster with an EBT card.
But as with most urban legends, these too are mostly mythical: not because there are no attempts to game the system — of course there are. But because the way nutrition assistance works, it is doubtful that such spendthriftiness would become a norm for anyone receiving it.
After all, when the average amount of benefits under the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what used to be called food stamps)…