5 x 8: The food stamp debate


Yesterday’s vote in the U.S. House of Representatives cutting food stamps (known as SNAP) for millions of Americans is largely symbolic. The bill, like most bills at the Capitol, isn’t going anywhere. It is a statement of values for those who participated in the vote.

It restricts food stamps for single adults with no children, and requires drug testing of its recipients. It requires them to enroll in jobs training, but does not require the states to provide the training programs. An estimated 2 million would lose help with buying food, tens of thousands of them in Minnesota.

Who are they?

They’re a cross section of America. There’s Jason, for example, a 35-year-old veteran, who writes:

I didn’t risk my life in Afghanistan so I could come back and watch people go hungry in America. I certainly didn’t risk it so *I* could come back and go hungry.

Anyone who genuinely supports cutting food stamps is not an intellectual or an ideologue – they’re a bully.

And nobody likes a bully. Except other bullies.

The average benefit per day for a recipient is $4.50. The CEO of Panera is trying to eat on that amount this month. He’s blogging about the SNAP challenge on LinkedIn:

Relative to SNAP, I want to give voice to a real issue many of you have articulated in your correspondence – that SNAP, though designed as a safety net, has become an entitlement program that is taken advantage of by people who are not in need. One man wrote, “They’re just mooching off the system, can’t you see that?” While undoubtedly there are some who take advantage, I keep trying to bring the conversation back to the real issue.

Forty eight million people are hungry in this country — 48 MILLION. We cannot punish the millions who are confronted every day with anxiety about where their next meal might come from, because of the behavior of what is likely a minority. The point is, I believe we can do better than allow significant numbers of our fellow citizens to go to sleep hungry.

Let me provide an analogy for choosing what to focus on as you think about the issue of food insecurity in America. At Panera, we offer free bathrooms and free WiFi in every bakery cafe. Sure, some people abuse these free services. We have some folks who sit in our stores all day long and use the WiFi without buying anything.

Does that mean we should shut down the WiFi for everyone else? No, of course not. The same logic applies to our Panera Cares cafes. Should we shut them down just because some people choose to ignore our philosophy of shared responsibility and eat without leaving a donation? Likewise, do we choose to ignore our neighbors and fellow citizens in pain because of the abuse of some? Clearly, my answer to that is no. Indeed, my belief is that I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Technically, there already are work requirements, the National Review, points out. But they were waived during the economic meltdown and many states haven’t enforced them, it says.

But all of that is to end on Nov. 1 anyway.

“How does it make this country a better place to reduce food security for millions of Americans, including children, the elderly and disabled? Many SNAP recipients are working jobs but not earning enough to pay for basic needs,” the Des Moines Register says in an editorial.

And Minnesota’s error rate in paying for SNAP is among the worst in the nation. A state official estimates that up to 5 percent of the payments are wrong.

Will the idea get more people working? “Cantor’s ‘get-a-job’ message rings hollow when there are few jobs to be had,” BusinessWeek says.


The phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” came to mind when we read Curtis Gilbert’s report on Saint Paul officials’ reactions to news a private developer is buying the empty Macy’s building in the city’s downtown.

Curtis pulls the “money quote” from city documents:

In the documents, city officials describe their worst-case scenario as a “Burlington Coat Factory type” of store or a parking ramp. Mayor Chris Coleman has said he’d love to see an upscale office building with restaurants on the first floor.

Let’s think about this. Granted having retail and jobs from a suburb-favoring store isn’t as good as getting upscale offices and restaurants in a downtown that has the market cornered on empty buildings of failed businesses and restaurants whose hours begin at 11 a.m. and end at 2 p.m., but “worst case?”

The comment came in a meeting in which city officials are said they’d like to avoid any business with a lower “price point” than the Macy’s store that went belly up on the site. Good luck with that.

There are some great things happening in Saint Paul. The Saints ballpark will be fun. Someday. Lowertown has neat lofts and bars. There’ll be light rail. Someday. There’ll be some action at the beautifully restored Union Depot. Someday. Maybe. The now closed Post Office may deliver on the dreams of city officials as a hotel and/or apartment complex. Someday. Who knows? Someone might buy the closed county jail on the riverfront that officials were sure someone would gobble up for high-priced condos with a view. But cinder block isn’t in style. Downtown dining before an event at the Xcel? Great fun.

There is a certain take-what-you-can-get reality that faces most struggling downtowns in America and often what you can get only accentuates the air of desperation. Give city officials credit — lots of credit — for having a vision for the city that shoots for the moon. But not everyone can grow up to be an astronaut.


Increasingly, people aren’t so much fans of their NFL team; they’re fans of football players on their fantasy teams. It’s changed the nature of sports and accounts for much of the exploding popularity of the NFL.

And people are making a buck or two, NPR’s Planet Money reports. Insurance brokers are selling insurance in case your star player goes down, and the local guy — Paul Charchian’s — latest company holds the dough that’s involved.

Beats working. Which is what a lot of people don’t do — I hear — during the day while working on their team.

Related: Adrian Peterson thinks fantasy football is a headache (Sports Illustrated)


Which Minnesota athletes aren’t earning their paycheck? Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal takes a crack at it. Spoiler alert: #1 is Dany Heatley, Minnesota Wild left wing.


What was the one thing missing from last week’s 9/11 anniversary? Ballet. Not anymore.

(h/t: Hart VanDenburg)

Bonus I: The Millennial Generation apologizes:

Bonus II: The best ads aren’t on TV anymore. And they’re not ads anymore. They’re films. And then, video games and apps:

Has your household recovered from the Great Recession?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: This week on the Friday Roundtable, our panel of entrepreneurs will discuss the things they wish they knew when they first decided to go out on their own.

Second hour: Transgender youth coping. Plus: A BBC documentary on fasting.

Third hour: A look at the Pope’s interview. Plus: Restoring your online reputation.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Minnesota GOP Congressman Vin Weber on “Constructive Calamity? Surprising Progress on Fiscal Problems.” He spoke yesterday in Minneapolis.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – TBA

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – A 22-year-old Yale graduate was facing a common dilemma: what to do after graduation. But his solution was everything but common. He would spent two months in a remote Canadian mountain village trying to compose a fully orchestrated chamber-pop album San Fermin. NPR will have the story.