It is no secret that Governor Scott Walker and the like pray at the alter of privatization. Their actions this past year have been a blatant attempt to guide our state into a completely privatized region. Schools are at the top of their list, but educators are typically smart and tough so that fight won't be an easy one.
One area Walker is in a hurry to privatize is Wisconsin's FoodShare Program. He would prefer private businesses be in charge of determining eligibility, conducting their own fraud investigations and regulating the program. This would all be done for profit. I think the mortgage debacle proved what corporations will do to make a buck on the backs of the poor and the ignorant.
But none of us can deny the rampant fraud and waste in the food stamp program. Every couple of weeks a new story is reported, shedding light upon yet another scam. Whether it is the plethera of convenient stores illegally accepting Quest cards for unapproved items such as beer or cigarettes to recipients selling their benefits on Facebook, countless tax dollars are being used inappropriately. Recently, nine Milwaukee County employees were suspected of stealing nearly $300,000 from the program during the past five years.
Something clearly needs to be done.
Even though these cases of fraud have been uncovered and even though Walker approved more funding for an expanded audit of FoodShare, very little is being done. Food stamp fraud for retailers is not a punishable crime and not one has gone to jail for their offenses.
Instead of pouring even more tax monies into a leaky program and its oversight, why not make some fundamental changes that could benefit everyone? My proposal may not be perfect or full of logistical detail, but it is an idea nonetheless.
Right now, federal tax dollars are given to the state for benefits in the form of a Quest Card each month. On this card remains a balance for which to buy a long list of approved food products. This process passes through too many hands with too little accountability. Throwing in another hand - the new private business looking to make a profit - will only muddy things further.
I would love to see that money go to farmers who agree to use a certain portion of their farm to grow food for local food facilities. There are a ton of unused, virtually abandoned buildings all over Racine. These locations could be modestly restored to become FoodShare Shopping Markets. These markets would carry healthy, locally grown, raised or processed food, like canned fruit and pickles. Instead of giving program recipients an allocation of funds for which to be responsible, beneficiaries would be able to shop these markets for free.
Obviously, being in Wisconsin, we cannot grow year round. To help pay for more expensive necessities like meat and fruit and vegetables in the off season, a small tax could be placed on fast food.
A few weeks ago while writing my on McDonald's french fries, I was reminded of a conversation a few years back with Representative Robin Vos (R-Rochester). I contacted him about my thoughts on a fast food tax after reading an article about Detroit instituting such a tax. He said it would be hurting the poorest of society because those are the people who purchase fast food the most.
This logic never sat right with me. The GOP is fine dictating plenty aspects of our lives but he was worried about the accessibility of a Big Mac? Fast food is not a necessity. Nutritious food is. If a Super Giant Valu Meal is ten cents more so that a family can have fresh fruit – well, I cannot comprehend any argument against that.
So, as I see it, here a list of potential benefits of my idea:
Make use of empty, eye sore buildings across the area;
Save money on investigations, committees and audits;
Eliminate the middle men who often cannot be trusted;
Provide high-quality, locally grown fruit and vegetables that can only improve lives and in turn, our communities; and
Keep farmers in business.
Maybe there are aspects I am overlooking which would make this idea less realistic. I am quite sure there is more to it than what I have briefly outlined. But is this idea any less reasonable than allowing more opportunity for corruption, greed and instability?
Seriously, tell me ... I wanna know ... how do ya like them apples?