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On the subject of whether certain product categories - such as soft drinks - should not be purchased with food stamps, we’ve gotten a lot of email.

One MNB user wrote:

Amen, amen, amen…I am in the Retail Food business (43 years and counting) and I have always been appalled by what the Food Stamp system will allow recipients to purchase.  When I worked in the stores as a cashier, I saw many people trading their Stamps for cash in order to buy liquor, cigarettes, etc.  Many times, the Stamps were used to purchase expensive seafood items (lump crabmeat, shrimp, etc.)  Boxed processed food was also a big seller.  Candy and Soda ranked high on the list of must haves.  I have often said the system needs to be revamped. Ban the purchase of soda and candy with Food Stamps throughout the country.  I would like to see the abuse stopped.  Personally, I feel that necessities such as soap should be allowed to be purchased with stamps.

Many years ago I had a customer who tried to buy cat food with Food Stamps.  I explained that they were ineligible items.  He did his best to convince me that “Us poor folks have to eat cat food”.  Really?  I had just seen this gentleman get out of his Mercedes in the parking lot. He was none too pleased when I called his bluff and offered him a can opener to use on the cat food.  I told him I would allow the purchase of the cat food if he ate a can of it in front of me.  After calling me a few choice names, he dropped the issue of purchasing cat food with his Stamps.  Back in the 70’s, I saw a man purchase $50 worth of seafood in a seafood market with Food Stamps.  That should not be allowed.  Basics like fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, canned goods, frozen vegetables should all be allowed.   Fluff like candy and soda should not be allowed.

I’m not sure I object to people buying seafood - which can be healthy - with food stamps. But other than that, I get your point.

MNB user Connie Montgomery wrote:

You really are opening a can of worms on the debate of what food stamps should and should not allow product type purchase. (Going to be fun reading!)

I live in San Antonio Texas, where there is a very large amount of people using food stamps.  Many of those people, in my opinion, can and should be able to work and earn a living.  After all, it is pretty cheap to live here in San Antonio.  But many have managed to get authorized food stamps without a real need.  (I know, it is my opinion, we all have them.)

It is frustrating to be in a grocery line behind someone using food stamps.  I have seen cookies, chips, candy, and sodas to name a few, and others that I would consider "luxury" items being purchased with those food stamps. (I thought they used to not allow sodas, anyway.)   I also see them buying lobster, shrimp, and expensive meat cut items that I even bypass due to the recession.  They are purchasing things with our government dollars that those of us who are considered "middle class" are not buying or can't afford.  Food stamps should be allowed for "generic" only and not branded; chicken, catfish nuggets and hamburger meat, not steaks and lobster.  The government should control the food stamp purchases and limit them to economical purchases.

That's again, my opinion, which is like something everyone else also has.

MNB user Cal Sihilling wrote:

Slippery slope here.  Why not put white bread on the list as well, twinkies, any high calorie foodstuff for that matter.  Thank God food stamps don't buy wine.  Put the effort into helping people find employment.  Nanny state.

I’m not sure that it is the same as a nanny state. To me, a legitimate argument can be made that we should not live in a nanny state that dictates to people what they can and cannot eat. Which is different from telling people can and cannot eat while spending my money.

MNb user Ken Wagar wrote:

Is it just me or is it a bit strange to see a report in MNB about an attempt in NYC to ban sugar sweetened soft drinks from food stamp recipients because of health concerns and in the same edition, the same day see a report that PepsiCo will be giving away 10 million cans of their new sugar sweetened soft drink at Wal-Marts around the country this week? I realize they are two separate news reports but it is interesting that they appear on the same day. And if we ignore geography aren’t we talking about the same customer base here?

Excellent point.

MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

UH.  They’re called FOOD stamps, aren’t they?

Sorry to say, there is a need for them. My wife volunteered in a local elementary school where SEVENTY PER CENT of the students are below the poverty level.  This is in the second biggest banking city in the United States, where affluence abounds.  It can be a very eye-opening experience to meet these kids.  Some are homeless, some have their only meal of the day at school.

Children (and adults, for that matter), need nutritious food.  That is the reason FOR the program.  There is no need for soda and the other beverages mentioned.  The parents have to say NO to the junk and spend the stamps for what they are intended.  This accomplishes 2 things, breaking the sugar addiction and getting more FOOD for the allotted dollars.

On another subject, we got the following email:

I was shocked to read that someone who is 42 didn’t know about Jim Jones.

I recognize our history classes can’t teach us about every historic event, and certainly the person in their 20s had many more “events” to learn about in school (so much more has happened in recordable history).

But 42, really? I am 39 and learned about the Jim Jones story in two high school classes, (Psychology and American History) and two university classes (World Religion and Comparative Politics). Please go back and ask these people if they have heard of Bay of Pigs? Fat Man and Little Boy? Do they know who Jack Ruby is? Are they familiar with Hall & Oates? Frogger?

Thanks, I just subscribed and enjoyed reading your piece greatly.

And thank you...for contributing.

And, regarding Walmart’s decision to move from a profit sharing program to a 401(k) matching program, MNB user Chris Connolly wrote:

As a former employee of a large privately-owned chain grocer who once had a profit-sharing plan and now as a fiduciary for both large and small retirement plans, I see both sides of this issue.

From an employee perspective, profit sharing plans can be a lucrative benefit over the long term as employees collect contributions from the employer regardless of whether the employee makes contributions to the retirement plan.    Because the eligibility for contributions can be based primarily on hours of service, I saw young employees who had sizable account balances in a profit sharing plan at an early age because (in some cases) they were receiving contributions while still attending school and it became a motivational tool to get those young people to continue working for us after their education was completed. Often older employees could find themselves fairly well prepared for retirement after years in a profit sharing plan because the combination of years of employer contributions and prudent investing by the fiduciaries could evolve into a nice nest egg for a potential retiree.   If handled properly, a profit sharing plan can be a great tool for employee retention.

Today, more employers want employees to have "skin in the game" and they establish retirement plans such as 401(k) plans that require an employee contribution to receive an employer match. Given the "spend it now" beliefs and attitudes of today's employees, employers will usually find lower participation in a retirement plan requiring contributions to participate and over the long term the average account balance per employee is much lower.

With retailing companies, the lower balances are exacerbated even more by the fact that their turnover rate tends to be higher than average.   In the end, the cost of the retirement  plan to the company is lower because there are fewer dollars contributed by the company in the form of a match.   For a publicly traded company  such as Walmart, this could easily be construed as being a move that would appease the shareholders but would be a detriment to the employees.

And, weighing in on another subject, MNB user Thierno I. Barry wrote:

I read the opinion section of your MNB yesterday about Campbell’s Halal certification yesterday  and thought that that most failed to realize that Campbell didn’t do this simply to take a stand on Islam in our very polarized debate around Grand Zero but simply because it owed it to its shareholders. This might surprise many but Campbell has significantly more Muslim customers abroad than it does it the USA. And since most of its products are made in the USA and exported  to places in the Middle East and South East Asia, simply adding the Halal certification helps the company maintain its market share in those places.

Precisely. The problem is that some people conflate this with political views that they choose to demonize.

One MNB user wrote in an email posted yesterday that the people doing the demonizing are just a fraction of the overall population, and I responded:

I agree that it is a fraction. But there’s pretty good evidence out there that the fractions are multiplying.

Which led MNB user Tim McGuire to write:

I hope that you are right that the "minute fractions of the world at large" that hold such narrow-minded views are indeed multiplying, because the rules of mathematics show that when you multiply two fractions, you end up with an even smaller fraction. 🙂

Of course. This amply demonstrates my math abilities.

If my father, who taught math for decades, knew about this, he’d shed a tear.
KC's View: