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Food For Fraud

by K. Lloyd Billingsley [commentator] 4/30/07

Authorities here are charging Beverly Benford, a former Statewide Administrative Coordinator with the California Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program (FSNEP), with embezzling funds by means of false purchases going back to 2000. Benford, 65, has pleaded not guilty. While she deals with the justice system, the nutrition program can serve an educational purpose.

K. Lloyd Billingsley
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

The FSNEP is part of the federal Food Stamp Program (FSP), part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which claims that in 2006 the FSP assisted approximately 26 million people. "The Food Stamp Program serves as the first line of defense against hunger," explains the official website. "It enables low-income families to buy nutritious food with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Food stamp recipients spend their benefits to buy eligible food in authorized retail food stores."

The Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program, in its own description, exists to "improve the likelihood that persons eligible for the FSP will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPyramid." Official websites also tout "food-safety skills" as a benefit.

In other words, put down those nachos, pick up your veggies, get some exercise, and careful handling that pasta. The government spends nearly $14 million a year to dish out this advice, readily available from many sources and much of it common sense. The FSNEP has operated in California since 1986 and is administered by UC Davis.

According to a 2006 report by UC Davis nutritionist Amy Block Joy, every dollar spent on nutrition education saves $3.64 to $8.64 in health-care costs. Fruit and vegetable consumption is up 43 percent and soda consumption down 35 percent, according to the report. Whatever the validity of these rather bold figures, nobody is required to participate in FSNEP in order to receive food stamps. The FSNEP does not track the level of participation.

Official FSNEP websites call food-stamp recipients "clients," as though this was some sort of business. FSNEP is really a government jobs program, and those who question its utility are not against nutrition. The program serves a reminder that a tax dollar cannot travel to Washington or Sacramento, go out on the town, then return intact in the form of services to the region from which it came. Government takes a big cut, right off the top.

Food stamps are not, as the program claims "the first line of defense against hunger." The real first line of defense is gainful employment. Welfare programs such as food stamps, which encourage dependency, are the last line of defense. But they have another educational contribution.

A food stamp is literally a voucher that recipients can exchange for goods. Food stamps do not oblige recipients to shop at government commissaries. The government pays for non-mandatory instruction in wise food choices but won't allow vouchers that would empower the "clients" to select a non-government school.

Meanwhile, the alleged embezzler Beverly Benford, former Statewide Administrative Coordinator for FSNEP, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. In court she will face Steven R. Lapham, the Assistant United States Attorney who prosecuted Theodore Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber. Kaczynski was the environmentalist whose zeal for the planet led him to blow up, among other places, the headquarters of the California Forestry Association in Sacramento, on April 24, 1995. The blast, three days after Earth Day, killed association president Gilbert Murray, a father of two. Lapham gained a conviction in the Unabomber case. CRO

copyright 2007 Pacific Research Institute




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