This past economic downturn has caused many in America to reassess their opinions regarding public assistance programs. After the banks, mortgage companies and investment houses robbed America blind, many people that had never before required public assistance were suddenly searching for financial help with their healthcare, housing, energy and food expenses.
However, now that the crisis appears to have been forestalled, at least for the time being, the programs are paying out more than ever before. And it has become essential to optimize the usage of those funds and reduce government expenditures on these programs.
One of the larger government programs provided to assist those with lower income is EBT. EBT stands for Electronic Benefit Transfer. It is essentially a method for providing funds for food and other necessities via an electronic card similar to a debit card.
EBT is a limited benefit, doled out by government based on need. Many that receive EBT are beneath the poverty level and require assistance to feed their families. It also acts as a safety net for those losing their jobs or other means of income and requiring temporary transitional assistance.
EBT, A WASTE?
While an admirable program, EBT can also be seen as a waste because it allows people to purchase pretty much anything they want that qualifies as food, such as potato chips and ice cream. Some may consider this to be incredibly wasteful, paying for the junk food of the needy. In addition, many of these processed foods are more expensive than healthier alternatives. It could be inferred that this also exacerbates our obesity problem in the US, ironically increasing medical costs via a program intended to provide sustenance and maintain health.
Another problem with assistance programs such as EBT, for which eligibility is determined by income, is they can discourage people to earn more money. This is because once certain levels of income are reached, the benefit is reduced or eliminated entirely. For those receiving the benefit, it makes little sense to lose a benefit by earning more, unless it is much more.
Such programs also encourage people to work “under the table”, in essence short changing the government for income they do not report. Ironic that those receiving a government benefits are encouraged to essentially bite the hand that feeds them.
There are solutions to this, and it could be that the government is getting wiser than it has been, but it is extremely difficult to offer aid without having the system abused, and quite often, the people abusing it do not see it as abuse. After all, our banking institutions were allowed by our government to merrily steal people’s retirement away and leverage our children’s futures. Relatively, tapping a government resource seems hardly immoral. The banks had no problem doing so.
Nonetheless, it is essential that the funds being used for EBT and other programs be managed, and optimized. One such optimization would be better communication to the EBT community that their benefits can help them produce their own food getting more out of every EBT dollar.
An almost secret benefit incorporated into EBT, and poorly communicated by government, is that it pays for plants and seeds that produce fruit or vegetables. This includes all the standard garden favorites, including tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, etc. All of which can be much more expensive at the store, especially if organically grown.
This provides those on government aid an opportunity to incorporate a gardening hobby or even to farm and use their EBT to pay for every seed or plant. It will not pay for fertilizers, soil or mulch, but it is a huge benefit that goes mostly unused.
Our government should promote awareness of this facet of the program and encourage its use. With budget cuts coming that could result in the reduction of EBT benefits, optimizing EBT dollars is even more essential.
The government could assist those on EBT if they required every store that accepts EBT to clearly label all items (maybe not individually, but at least within a department) that can be purchased with the food benefit. Gardening and growing ones own organic food stuffs could reduce the expenses of those that require government aid and provide them better nutrition via their own efforts.