Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 15, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: SNAP and corporate responsibility

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — We all know that black Friday occurs right after Thanksgiving, rolls into cyber Monday and the shopping frenzy continues right up until Christmas.

But for many local retailers, black Friday occurred on Halloween this year when the $5 billion “safety net” provided by the 2009 stimulus package to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp program, known as SNAP, expired. For the one in seven American families who depend on SNAP, the loss of $36 dollars a month in benefits is worrisome.

To the majority of us, $36 a month may not seem like a lot of money, but for those folks who work at minimum wage jobs and live paycheck to paycheck, it makes the difference between feeding their kids and being able to fill the tank with gas to get to work.

Regionally, this means that more than 18,000 of our neighbors, many of them children, will have $2 million less in benefits to spend at Family Fare, Tom’s, Meijer, Wal-Mart, Save-a-Lot and many other retailers in the area.

Many think the SNAP program has grown too big and too easy for people to receive benefits. They say all we have to do is look at the fact that in 2012 the government spent $80 billion on SNAP, which is more than twice the level of spending before the Great Recession. Starting in 2007, millions of Americans lost their jobs and needed help to survive, hence the additional dollars to the SNAP program.

A lot of those who lost their jobs due to the recession have found work as the economy slowly recovers, but at jobs paying such low wages that it is impossible to feed their family without help. No matter what the spin-doctors advertise on TV, the facts are that Wal-Mart, where 18 to 20 percent of all SNAP dollars are spent, is the largest employer in the country who pays such low wages that thousands of their employees rely on government assistance to survive. But Wal-Mart isn’t alone in receiving billions in corporate welfare handouts.

In a recent study conducted by University of California-Berkley Labor Center, 52 percent of front-line fast food workers are on some form of public assistance, at a cost of over $7 billion a year. The top ten fast food chains: McDonald’s; Yum! Brands; Subway; Burger King; Wendy’s; Dunkin Donuts; Dairy Queen; Little Caesars; Sonic and Domino’s like Wal-Mart are profiting directly off the government programs for low-income families. We, the taxpayers, are subsidizing wages at these immensely profitable companies (2012 Wal-Mart profit was $15.5 billion and the top ten fast food combined $7.5 billion).

Rosemary Hagan, Executive Director of the Father Fred Foundation, says the organization is seeing a lot more people coming through the door now that the SNAP cuts have taken effect. She said “we’re seeing people are already hurting. We keep having meetings about what to do and how to prepare but (the) reality is we really can’t be completely prepared and we can’t accurately predict the need, so we just do the best we can with what we have…and we pray a lot.”

Profit is not a dirty word, but forcing the taxpayers to pick up the slack for lack of corporate responsibility is just plain wrong.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a pre and post retirement income specialist and certified health insurance advisor in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any other senior issue he can be reached at 231-922-1010 or