Marianas Variety Guam Edition – The Local and Regional Newspaper

12 23Thu10022014

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Food stamp island

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I’M SURE some of you have had some degree of food stamp envy at one time or another.

In these tough times, you try to save as much as possible by sacrificing some expensive purchases – maybe a less premium cut of beef or a more generic brand of a food grocery item.

Then you come across someone with hundreds of dollars worth of food stamps, purchasing not necessities but a whole cart full of the most expensive “luxury” items with no care in the world – certainly not caring about the high prices of the purchases.

Worse, the person looks filthy rich, with more bling and jewels than your average island fat cat.

Everybody knows the food stamp program, or what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has gray areas that many unscrupulous people have been taking advantage of.

I know some people – well-off people – who certainly are not in need, but who incredibly receive generous SNAP benefits, due to some loophole in the system.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the welfare system and I think it's a humane system that gives assistance to those truly in need.

But there is something about abusing such a system that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Welfare abuse not only cheats the state, it also cheats the people who have to work hard to earn their upkeep.

Even more sickening is a situation when an honest, working family truly becomes a victim of hard times and requires assistance from the government but doesn't qualify to receive the help, while others who don't need the help qualify for assistance.

This brings me to Sen. Sam Mabini's Bill 317, which would require individuals to be drug tested before they can renew or be eligible for public assistance.

The bill brought knee-jerk opposition from the usual bleeding hearts who said that such a law would further stigmatize and marginalize welfare recipients.

Ironically, many welfare recipients I talked to have no such objections and actually welcome such tests. For these people, being drug-tested and being found negative would remove what they consider as the worse “stigma” – that all welfare recipients abuse the welfare system.

There is a strong rationale for the drug testing of welfare recipients. The unfortunate truth is that welfare enables and actually encourages substance abusers to sink deeper into addiction. Because their basic necessities are already taken care of by the welfare system, these people have more money to spend on substance abuse.

And this refers not just to drug abuse, but also to alcohol abuse. We know the stories of some welfare recipients who have deals with their small mom-and-pop stores to be able to buy alcohol with their Quest cards. Or those who buy costly prime-grade beef and then resell them really cheap in order to have cash to buy alcohol or drugs.

Sadly, it is the children who suffer the most, especially if their addicted parents are truly marginalized but use their allotted welfare benefits on substance abuse, instead of for their children. Remember, an addict with money to burn is a one-way ticket to hell.

There are some who have argued that Guam would not get anything from this legislation since welfare benefits are provided by the federal government anyway.

But we are not counting the monetary costs here; what we are counting are the social costs. The more drug addicts a community has, the more likelihood there would be of crimes in the community.

Welfare programs are compassionate systems for helping people, and serve as a safety net for families that are truly in need. But if not regulated properly, many people will continue to abuse and find new ways to cheat the program.

This is why there should be enforceable guidelines that must be met to regulate the welfare system to ensure that all those, and only those, who really need support receive the benefits.

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