I want to make a proposal. I propose we give every adult a government benefits card, along with a matching money account it can make payments from. Let’s call it the GovMoneyDirect benefit card. Now, all government benefits will flow through this card, with cash deposited once per month. You’re not allowed to transfer money out of the GMD account; you can only spend the money in that account directly at a business. We should probably also make a rule that the benefits can’t be spent online (that’d be a little too private). And when I say all government benefits, I’m talking about social security, supplemental security income, veteran’s benefits, food stamps (SNAP), WIC benefits, unemployment benefits, housing subsidies, energy assistance, the earned income tax credit, child tax credit, and all appropriate tax expenditures (other deductions and credits). This should represent just about the sum total the government is giving almost all US citizens in direct aid that isn’t strictly healthcare-related.
Now we can all get mad at each other appropriately when we spend our government benefits. I, of course, won’t approve of people spending their government benefits on Whole Foods, just because I think that that store is way too expensive. Maybe my new laptop purchase seems excessive to you, considering I already have one that’s perfectly usable. I bet after a few months of watching each other spend with our GovMoneyDirect cards, we’d get riled up enough to start proposing some interesting laws on what we can and cannot buy with them.
The US government hands out over 1 trillion dollars in direct benefits to individuals and over 1 trillion dollars in income tax expenditures every year. This was a key point of my UBI proposal: almost everyone in the United Stats is a “welfare” recipient already. Almost none of us have to account for how we use our benefits once they’re provided.
So why do SNAP beneficiaries get picked on in this way? I suspect the system was setup this way on purpose, to make it easy to shame people who need the program by giving a distinctive card that must be used to access it. That could be out of spite, out of a hope that it’d help kill the program later on, or for other even less virtuous reasons. It’s very easy to pick on the poor, since they generally can’t afford the lobbyists and lawyers needed to fight for good laws.
So GovMoneyDirect cards for all! Or we could treat all people equally and with dignity and implement a universal basic income.