In American culture, there is a deeply ingrained moral value placed on work. On having an “entrepreneurial spirit” and a strong work ethic. It is part of what makes America a great country. “Greed is good” may be the slogan we use to describe capitalism, but for those of us who get up in the morning to go to work, it isn’t greed that motivates us. It is the sense of purpose and dignity that we get from our jobs and from doing those jobs well. And, from needing to eat.
Most Americans agree that there is a standard of living that we should not allow our citizens to fall below, even if it means that we use some of our resources to help them. We don’t think it is morally right for fellow citizens to starve, especially children. Our policies on public assistance reflect that belief and try to provide the very basics of life to everyone.
These policies also reflect a tension between American generosity and the American ideal of the entrepreneurial spirit. In an effort to both prevent hunger and to protect the American work ethic we reformed assistance programs to eliminate cash benefits and to tie receiving benefits to work or the search for work. It has led many recipients of SNAP assistance, more commonly referred to as food stamps, to sell their benefits for cash rather than using them for food. This is a crime and may carry fines, jail time, and a loss of benefits. One that we spend a lot of time and effort trying to eradicate. But should we? Or should we be turning a blind eye to, or maybe even encouraging, the sale of food stamps for cash?