Anyway, on the conveyer belt is a bunch of soda pop, sugary cereals, potato chips, maybe gum and candy, and God forbid, alcohol. Maybe ice cream, chocolate milk – you can imagine a heap of unhealthy and/or “fun” food products.
Then the shopper whips out their Maine EBT card (the way by which Maine distributes welfare money – which includes several different public assistance programs actually) and maybe some cash to cover whatever is excluded from payment with the card, and my observant friends go crazy with Facebook protests and other online rants. Some form entire political campaign themes around the topic.
Well, look, I've got a simple idea I call the Government Cheese Program (GCP). First, check out the Wikipedia Government Cheese article. So, I put forth this premise. If the government (taxpayers) are paying for your food, then the government (taxpayers) get to tell you what you're going to eat. If you want freedom of choice, and fun, colorful, yummy treats that are mostly about pleasing the palate and not focused on sustaining a healthy mammal throughout a day, then that's a goal to strive for by getting off of public assistance and earning your own money that you can use for anything you like – like vodka and Twinkies.
The way it would work is this – eligible persons or families would get a GCP card. At all supermarkets, certain food in the store would be FREE to those with the card. You'd just put it in your cart, swipe your card, and walk out. Instead of getting money and then having a choice what to buy, you only have the choice of specific foods. The supermarkets would all be reimbursed by the government directly for the consumed merchandise. They would also have to agree to carry the core GCP foods list at all times, but would be allowed to adjust quantities to match demand.
What would be on the Government Cheese free food (and other essentials) list? Well, it would intentionally not be exciting, but it would be nutritious. There would be little variety. One reason for boring but healthy selections would be to motivate people to strive to get off of welfare. Another would be for the products to be unexciting enough such that one could not find buyers to resell them too, acquiring cash, and then spending it on Keystone Lite and Ding Dongs.
I sense there is already some categorization of foodstuffs that are eligible and aren't eligible for using the Maine food supplement program, but I don't think it's specific enough to prevent the problem of the junkfood extravaganza. It's probably based on broad categories. Too broad.
So here's some examples of what I'd put on the GCP free food list:
85% lean ground beef
Kosher reduced fat all-beef hot dogs
Boneless chicken breasts
Mac and cheese (store brand – not Kraft)
Franks and beans
Thin spaghetti pasta (no other shapes)
Green leaf lettuce (only 1 variety of lettuce)
Granny Smith apples (only one apple choice – whatever is most generic)
Beans (one kind of basic, canned, baked beans – store brand)
One kind of multigrain bread – store brand
Milk (only the cheapest brand of the basics – skim, 2%, ½ & ½)
Coffee (yes, coffee to enhance productivity – but only one kind of basic freeze-dried grounds – store brand if possible)
Feminine hygiene products – one choice
Toilet paper – one kind of plain white store brand
Shampoo – one kind, one scent, non-gender specific, of the cheapest brand
Soap – just a bar
Potatoes – plain brown ones
No sugar added jam (I'll be generous and allow two flavors, strawberry and grape)
Plain, store-brand, low-sugar, high-fiber cereals
And of course, the proverbial Government Cheese – I think a nice longhorn cheddar. Block form.
I think you see where I'm going with this. Point is, no multiple flavors, no fancy colors, nothing fun. No ice cream, no popsicles, no soda, no flavored water, no potato chips, no Cheetos, no muffins, no cookies, no cake, no Ding Dongs, or Little Debbie cakes, or Entemann's breakfast treats. No pizza. The choices are centered around concepts like Protein and Fiber and what-not. No tiny snack packs or convenient take-along packages. No microwave entrees. You have to cook for yourself until you have a job that has you pressed for time – then you can spend your own money to by quick-prep stuff.
It won't be fun or exciting, but it will keep you from dying until you get a job. Your family and kids and friends will whine about the choices at your house...until the rumbling of their belly gets strong enough to want another can of franks & beans. Or a banana.
This way there is no room for abuse. Public sentiment towards public assistance will shift from bitterness and envy to pity and sympathy. And folks on the program will probably look healthier and lose weight, as well as striving to get off it.
Now, if you'll excuse me, writing this has worked up an appetite for some franks and beans and cheese and crackers.