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Quest for a Better Quest

Wisconsin's FoodShare Program is dripping down the drain of a corrupt basin. Perhaps we can think outside of the cereal box for some solutions.

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?

CowDung August 19, 2011 at 04:39 PM
"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." The argument against that would be that a large number of poor people do consider fast food to be a necessity. Feeding a family off the dollar menu is often a necessity when one (often a single parent) has to work at least one job and often doesn't have the time to shop and prepare meals for the family every day. Putting an extra 10 cents (or whatever the amount might be) on each meal does increase the financial burden on those who can afford it the least.
Lisa Brennan August 19, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I like the concept of fresh locally grow foods getting into the hands of those who can not typically afford them. Years ago wic gave food dollars for recipients to utilize at the farmers market not sure how the program did or if they still do it but that would be a place to gain more information on the logistics of your idea. I know sometimes I fail to plan my dinner so we head out or order a pizza I would just be happy to have an actual healthy restaurant in the city.
Heather in Caledonia August 19, 2011 at 10:40 PM
If poor people choose to eat at fast food joints with their money, I have no problem with that at all. In fact, if wealthy or middle-of-the road people want to eat at fast food joints with their money, I have no problem, either. Don't like fast food? Don't eat there. I love buying locally during the summer and fall for our vegetables and some fruits. The food tastes great and it's usually an excellent price. (At one farmer's stall last week I bought a pound of carrots, a bulb of garlic, a pound of broccoli and a huge cucumber for less than $3.) I'd have no problem with the Food Share program giving vouchers for local farmers markets - Lisa, I remember hearing something about that once, too, but don't know how it worked out. However, to start the gov't running shopping markets will cost a lot more than our state can afford. It would also compete with local grocery stores and farmers who don't participate in the program. These Share cards need to get smart. The gov't can work with major retailers on this. Major stores all have computers now, right? They seem to be able to track exactly what I buy with my loyalty cards. Why? Because they make money on that and therefore have put resources towards developing that ability. So... the gov't needs to tell them if they want to have Share business, they need to develop a way for the registers to deny an unauthorized purchase right then and there. Betcha Wal-Mart has programmers smart enough to do that if they're pressured.

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