Sep 21 2012
10:44 am
By: R. Neal  shortURL

Tom Humprey links to this article by former Libertarian think-tank operators about Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) card abuse.

They rightfully "expose" EBT card abuse at liquor stores and strip clubs. Some of their other examples, though, are misleading at best. For example, they for some reason feel that purchases at West Town Mall or at Dillards are abuse. They also cite purchases at pizza restaurants, auto parts stores, and a hair care products store.

These other alleged abuses are legitimate uses of EBT cards. Poor people need clothing, personal grooming products and cars that run. They might even like to have a pizza from time to time like "normal" people.

The article also contains inaccuracies, such as the claim that the United States Postal Service does not accept EBT cards. In fact, the USPS accepts cash-benefit EBT cards for all USPS products and services. For example, an unbanked person could go to a post office and use their EBT card to purchase a money order to pay their utility bill.

This "controversy" is a right-wing talking point being ginned up by conservatives and tea partiers with their hair on fire about fraud and abuse in government programs. (See: Greg Johnson, and this recent letter to the editor.)

They are using misdirection and disinformation to promote their war on "fraud and abuse" by intentionally confusing different kinds of benefits (as they even note in their article) with how the benefits are delivered using EBT cards.

EBT cards were originally designed to distribute food stamp benefits (now SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program). More recently, they are used by states to distribute welfare benefits (now TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). EBT cards have also been used in some states for unemployment benefits and disaster relief funds.

SNAP benefits are to be used for food, and there are restrictions regarding the types of foods that can be purchased (i.e. no alcohol or hot foods or food items consumed in the store). TANF benefits are cash benefits that could previously be used for just about anything (including EBT ATM withdrawals), but recent changes to federal law require states to prohibit the use of TANF EBT cards at liquor stores, casinos, adult entertainment and the like. States are supposed to have policies in place by Feb. 22, 2014.

There are two problems with this. First, the federal government leaves it up to the states to administer SNAP and TANF benefit programs and EBT systems. Second, it appears that individual EBT benefit accounts comingle SNAP and TANF benefits, and there does not appear to be any way to differentiate the type of benefit at the point of sale.

According to operating rules of Quest, the major EBT electronic clearing network, the type of benefit allowed is determined by the type of merchant authorization, either SNAP only, cash-benefit (i.e. TANF) only, or both. It is up to the merchant, then, to enforce the rules. Also, SNAP EBT merchant enrollment is handled by the federal government (USDA), while state TANF cash-benefit merchant enrollment is handled by each state. This is further complicated by third-party point-of-sale terminal and exchange providers, who are supposed to qualify merchants and the types of EBT transactions they can accept.

According to this recent GAO report, it's a complicated mess and technology has not kept up, and neither have state policies. Here's another report on state attempts to regulate EBT TANF transactions.

But obviously it's that socialist Obama's fault for redistributing wealth to all those freeloaders on welfare and food stamps.

R. Neal's picture

Yes, Pilot even qualifies to

Yes, Pilot even qualifies to accept SNAP EBT cards.

SNAP Eligible Food Items

Min's picture

Then I must have been standing in line...

...behind someone with a WIC card the other day, because the cashier made her put her brand-name canned green beans back on the shelf and buy the store brand, or she wouldn't ring her up. She said it was because it was required by law. Personally, I think green beans ought to qualify, no matter what brand you're buying.

Average Guy's picture

Gatorade and Ding Dongs

There in lies my rub.

If government is to engage in healthcare and welfare that includes food, it shouldn't engage counterproductively.

If I can track the health benefits of the food I buy with a bar code reader using a free app on my phone, government should be able to do better than it's "complicated."

People need help. Eating things that produce bad health doesn't provide it and drives up costs for everyone making better choices.

R. Neal's picture

Congress has previously tried

Congress has previously tried to regulate the types of allowable food items. Lobbying by companies like Archer Daniels Midland and others likely plays a role in current policy.

Average Guy's picture

Thanks Citizens United

Funny how our fellow "citizens" seem always to be the ultimate hindrance to any progress.

Just more proof of who really owns and runs our system.

KC's picture

I wouldn't say its Obama's

I wouldn't say its Obama's fault, and in large degree, it's the agencies involved.

In some respects, because of the surge in applicants since the Great Recession, and no surge in the hiring of case workers, a lot of benefits offices are overwhelmed.

And some of it has been due to contentment and the lack of oversight, or the strength of apathy, among those who are responsible for the programs.


I think the worse thing about this stuff, is that it ends up hurting those who are using the system in the right way and for the necessary things.

Somebody's picture

In some respects, because of

In some respects, because of the surge in applicants since the Great Recession, and no surge in the hiring of case workers,

This is the key to the issue. Micromanaging what people can and cannot purchase with the EBT card is patronizing and would ultimately be ineffective. Having the card programmed to say "yes" or "no" to each specific item is nearly as patronizing as Campfield's proposals to have people drug-tested before they can live in public housing. It's saying that if you're poor, we're going to treat you like children if we give you any help.

Mitt Romney gets millions in tax subsidies simply because most of his income comes from "investments" instead of work. While some tax credits are had based on investments in specific things that may benefit others, the lower tax rate given for general "investment income" subsidizes Romney for millions of dollars whether or not his income comes from investment in wholesome things or from something that moved a thousand jobs from South Carolina to Southern China.

On the other hand, if a poor person gets $200 in food stamps, we want to look over his shoulder to make sure he buys orange juice instead of Coca Cola? How is that fair?

On the other hand, spending money to provide people (whether or not they're on welfare) with the guidance and education that might help them choose on their own to buy healthier food would be a good idea, because the long-term benefits for the individual and for the community as a whole would be significant.

Perhaps those lower tax rates for people like Romney should come with classes on how their investments affect other people and the economy as a whole. Maybe with a little case management to go with his million-dollar welfare windfall, Mitt would decide to invest in things that actually do create jobs. Who knows?

Average Guy's picture

On the other hand, if a poor

On the other hand, if a poor person gets $200 in food stamps, we want to look over his shoulder to make sure he buys orange juice instead of Coca Cola? How is that fair?

More fair that person get diabetes so those subsidizing get to pay twice?

I've given homeless on Knoxville streets food and offers for a ride to KARM (never taken BTW). I don't give money. I guess different people view "help" differently. If somebody on the street has an empty liquor bottle beside them, one should reasonably figure where the cash would go. For me, helping them get more booze isn't help.

And we don't live in food stamp times. If Visa can tell what I've bought and where I buy it, there is no reason these cards can't as well.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Chinese Proverb
Give a man a steady diet of Filet-O-Fish, he'll have a lifetime of health issues.
Morgan Spurlock

shell's picture

well when you're making it stretch

I get the idea of trying to make sure people use SNAP to eat healthy but when you are making 300 feed a family for a whole month totinos sure stretch a dollar. And have a longer health life then fresh produce. If we want to point fingers the companies making the better healthier foods unfortunately don't make them cheaply.

rikki's picture

This discussion reminds me of

This discussion reminds me of the Housing First debate. Views on such issues seem to diverge based on whether you believe the purpose of things like EBT cards is to assist individuals or to assist society.

For me, the reason to have a social safety net is to promote public safety. People who are hungry, homeless, penniless are more likely to commit crimes. I believe it's more cost effective to feed and house anyone who needs it than it is to patrol, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate them, plus you get fewer lives disrupted by theft or violence. If this is the goal, there is no need for regulating diet, behavior, etc. Those goals would be better addressed by churches, non-profits and community groups, not by the government.

Average Guy's picture

I suppose we'd have to

I suppose we'd have to disagree that America's fast food/hyper processed food addiction is not a matter of public safety.

Your point is to keep those in need out of jail. Mine is that we should try to keep them out of the hospital, which depending on the chronic disease, could be more costly to the system.

And I'm also unclear why the two should be exclusive.

Somebody's picture

I have no problem with the

I have no problem with the idea of trying to help people choose a better diet. Why just go after the poor, though? While you may be subsidizing the results of a poor person's bad eating habits through public healthcare costs, you are equally subsidizing everyone else's bad eating habits through your insurance premiums. So maybe all credit card transactions should deny Twinkie purchases, no?

Your better bet is to go after the producers of processed foods, incentivizing or requiring changes that will result in improvements to what people eat, even when they buy processed foods.

Poor people don't just buy that stuff out of stupidity and laziness, you know. The industry advertises heavily, for starters, and they don't do it just to charitably employ ad executives. Second, particularly for working-class stiffs, having something quick to eat between the day and evening jobs is paramount. Finally, the stuff is often markedly cheaper than the good stuff. It sure as hell is cheaper than organic whole foods.

Rather than using EBT databases to big brother the poor, maybe it would be better to work on the other side of the equation, making better food more available, more affordable, and more desireable.

Average Guy's picture

People who can afford their

People who can afford their own bad choices likewise have the right to pay for the consequences.

I understand the point on the collective, but that too leaves an opportunity for better options. Progressive car insurance has an option to put a little device in the charger to track a driver's habits. Prove yourself a good driver, get a better rate. Why not an elective option for those who can prove they engage in good health practices?

Rather than using EBT databases to big brother the poor, maybe it would be better to work on the other side of the equation, making better food more available, more affordable, and more desireable.

No disagreement, and I believe implementing government guidelines for those on government assistance would help spur it. If a convenience store was faced with losing revenue on Twinkies because a certain demo couldn't purchase them, they're not going simply give up and shutter the doors. They're going stock their shelves with what EBT users would be allowed to purchase. More fruit on the shelves would be a good thing, no?

KC's picture

And it's my understanding

And it's my understanding that fastfood restaurants are the latest to lobby the state to be able to accept the cards.

R. Neal's picture

I'm pretty sure they can

I'm pretty sure they can already accept EBT cards for TANF cash-benefit recipients. The USDA does not allow SNAP benefits for fast food or any other kind of restaurant.

Michael's picture


It sort of depends on what you call a restaurant. For example, Papa Murphey's prepares pizzas to be baked at home. Thus, it's neither hot nor food that will be eaten at the store. I suppose that's not much different than picking up something similar at a grocery. But I've never seen a Papa Murphey's without a giant poster in the window advertising that they accept EBT cards.

Average Guy's picture

North of us, there are

North of us, there are healthy options in convenience stores. In our area, not so much. Maybe one could point to bread and milk, but those items are cheaper in grocery store anyway.

IMO, those cards shouldn't be allowed in convenience stores or fast food chains. And if fast food, simply put what is EBT approved on the menu boards. Yes to salad, no to BigMac.

The technology of tying information of purchasing habits to medical care could be put on one government issued card. If government can impose healthier choices to those requiring government assistance and it showed reduced medical costs, it should be done.

Wouldn't it be interesting if the healthiest demographic in a generation from now wound up being those on assistance?

And for those who would balk, get your own money and go super-size yourself. As I sated above, I don't mind subsidizing help, I do mind subsidizing chronically bad choices.

bizgrrl's picture

IMO, those cards shouldn't be

IMO, those cards shouldn't be allowed in convenience stores or fast food chains.

Thus, you've never been poor? Look around at many of the very poor communities, or even communities with lower income. You can't easily get to a grocery store. You can get to a convenience store for a loaf of bread and peanut butter. Been there, done that. Even back in the day when gas was very cheap, there were times when not enough money was available to go anywhere.

Yes to salad, no to BigMac.

Have you ever tried doing manual labor after eating a salad? IMO, it's just not the same as a $1 egg mcmuffin.

Min's picture

There's a reason...

...poor parts of town are often called "food deserts". That's because there isn't a grocery store or market that offers the folks who live there all these healthy food choices that they're supposed to be using their EBT cards to purchase.

In case you don't know where the food deserts are in KnoxVegas, here's a handy link:


bizgrrl's picture

Here's the actual USDA Food

Here's the actual USDA Food Desert Locator map. Kind of interesting. Anderson and Roane Counties are the only two counties next to Knox that also have food deserts.

I knew it was a little hard to shop for groceries in South Knox, but wow. Interesting too, since thirty or so years ago there was much better access to grocery stores in SoKno. Sevier Avenue, Island Home and Vestal would not have been food deserts back then.

Rachel's picture

I don't think of Island Home

I don't think of Island Home as a food desert, but I guess by the formal definition, it is one. Probably 4 or so miles to Kroger, and Food City and Bi-Lo are gone.

The closest convenience stores to us are maybe just over a mile away, and I sure wouldn't want to do major grocery shopping in either.

bizgrrl's picture

No Food City in South

No Food City in South Knoxville until you get to John Sevier Highway/Chapman Highway. The store on Broadway is about the same distance. Kroger is the single major grocery store in South Knoxville. That seems like meager pickings for the density of the population.

Rachel's picture

Yup. There used to be a Food

Yup. There used to be a Food City and a Bi Lo close to Kroger on Chapman Highway, but they're both gone now.

Average Guy's picture

How to fix the deserts


The Obama administration has mandated the Auto industry to have a 54.5 Mpg average by 2025. Do the auto and oil industries like the idea? Probably not, but tough, it's what's best for the country.

How do you turn a desert into an oasis? The same way. Or at least as far as government funded food goes.

I think people would be confused if Obama suggested the best way to improve fuel consumption was to put sugar in your tank.

Likewise, it makes no sense the best way to reduce government funded medical consumption would be by letting people continue to put a steady diet of high fructose corn syrup in their tanks.

Would junk food manufactures and conveinince stores like it? Probably not, but tough, it would be better for the country.

Somebody's picture

O.K., but the comparable

O.K., but the comparable mandate in this regard would be a regulation applied to the food production business, not on a specific class of consumers. CAFE standards apply to the entire fleet of cars, not to the specific consumer. You as an individual can still buy a gas-guzzler that gets single digit mileage, if you can find it.

CAFE standards cause the makers of automobiles to offer consumers choices that get better fuel economy. Without that government interference, automakers go for the easy choice, larger vehicles more power at the expense of fuel economy. It's pretty easy to sell that to consumers, who only react short term. Back in 2008 when gas prices spiked above $4 per gallon, suddenly all those folks out there with SUVs discovered they couldn't afford to fill their tanks, but they also couldn't afford to get rid of the SUVs, as no one wants to buy one when gas is $4.50 oer gallon. When gas prices drop, consumers continue to think short-term, and will forget about fuel economy.

So how do you get food producers to improve what they sell, so that consumers across the spectrum (not just poor people) have better options?

Average Guy's picture

I stated above;

Wouldn't it be interesting if the healthiest demographic in a generation from now wound up being those on assistance?

You think if that were to happen all other demographics wouldn't take notice? Government shouldn't force food choices on people using their private dollars, but it should attempt improvements where public dollars are being used. Especially since there is no separating food choices with health care.

There will always be the idiots who'll fight for their right to get 8 miles to the gallon on their way to get a Baconater, but my guess would be most would realize there may be something to the heathy looking EBT consumer that's taking the apple off the shelf instead of a Ding-Dong. Food producers, because of market demand, would have to take notice. (as they have with increased products to accommodate the organic market)

I get this is fanciful thinking, but some kind of thinking is better than "it's complicated". I also noted it would take a generation.

50 cents wasted's picture

WIC is the saddest program, stood in line behind a WIC checkout

yesterday afternoon at Wal-Mart on Clinton Highway.

The customer had their WIC coupon out and a delightful assortment of juices, cheeses, grapes, whole wheat bread, and the Mayfield's milk, just what you would want to feed your child or pack for their lunch. The expensive brands, not the cost cutter stuff.

What incinerated me was the customer's other buggy that had already been rung up seperately filled with cases of beer, carton's of cigarettes, junk food, Little Debbies, bags of Halloween candy (in September?), two bird feeders, a sack full of black sunflower seed, dog treats, and a handful of $5 DVDs from the big bin and the entire 6th season of ABCs "Desperate Housewifes".

The customer had obviously figured out the WIC racket, how to live large and wide on their paycheck and stick the taxpayers with the costs of being a parent who gave a flip about their child's health or diet.

Rachel's picture

What incinerated me What

What incinerated me

What happened to your ashes?

KC's picture

Yes, just ask any honest

Yes, just ask any honest cashier.

Same with EBT. Not all the time, but too much of it.

Preaching the truth's picture


I do not myself have food stamps or any other type of assistance. I am a 25 year old married college girl with no children of my own yet.

I bust my ass working a lot of odd jobs until I graduate from school. Alot of them have been cashier jobs and I can say that nothing would bother me more then ringing a person up with jewelry way better than my own, the new iPhone 5 in their hands, brand name clothes and fingernails freshly done by a shop. Then after I would tell the person the total they would whip out their EBT card and pay for their shrimp, expensive cuts of meat and plenty of name brand foods that I cant buy myself.

My whole demeanor would change, I would no longer be pleasant to them. I no longer work where EBT is accepted because I can not morally accept it myself.

There are plenty of my friends who have fallen on hard times and have not been able to receive help from the government. Its not fair that my friends are honest and the dishonest people get help. I certainly know that I shouldn't judge everyone on EBT and I truly don't. But working in a grocery store you know after a while who is truthfully and whose shady. Its a sicken world we live in.

Pam Strickland's picture

Something shady about your

Something shady about your story since the iPhone 5 isn't that old and you speak as if it has been a while since you worked in the grocery store.

The jewelry could have been a gift or could have been something that they had had for years. The name brand clothing from a thrift store. My family members can do nails so that they look as if they were done by a shop. As for what they elected to buy with their EBT, that was their choice. I'd much rather they bought quality foods than soda pop and potato chips.

I agree that it's too hard to get EBT benefits and that the amounts are not enough. But it's not my place to judge the people who have benefits.

lonnie's picture

I get tired of hearing people

I get tired of hearing people fuss and cuss about helping needy people get food stamps or WIC or health care. It is ok if millionaires and billionaires get subsidized by the government, but not "poor trash". Many caring people give their time and resources to help the needy, and that is as it should be, the problem is that help from private sources is not enough. There are also too many misguided individuals that help with Second Harvest or other organizations for the wrong reasons. They are actually making a statement against government assistance. They approach it with the attitude that they are proving that govt. assistance is not needed and that it is not the place of government to help the disadvantaged or provide a safety net for those that have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. A few cans of green beans and a maybe a Thanksgiving turkey and all is well.
Too many people think it is much better that government pad the pockets of those that do not need help. If you have a conversation with many conservative Republicans you will find many different twisted ideas about the role of American government. They believe in government by the elite and for the elite.
It is great for the soul to be a part of a charity giving the poor people or a dog or cat a can of food, we just can't justify giving them the resources to have good health care and stay alive. It is much more important to provide for the elite of our society. Many do-gooders are not as much interested in helping the truly needy as they are in keeping the "poor trash" from negatively effecting their nice little world. We are so far behind most of the western democracies in just having civilized government policies. It is not surprising that people living in western European feel that the quality of their lives is much better than the quality of life in the U.S. We should be doing much more.
I do not mean to imply that there are not lots of good-hearted people that give their work and time and resources for the right reasons. However, too many Americans are mean spirited and selfish. America needs less assholes and more leaders that are not selfish jerks that favor the rich.

Factchecker's picture


But working in a grocery store you know after a while who is truthfully and whose shady. Its a sicken world we live in.

And a dishonest and illiterate one too.

bizgrrl's picture

The interesting thing about

The interesting thing about this article/report is they are mixing apples and blue jeans, as is HHS. One card provides both SNAP and TANF. That in itself makes the technology and management more complex.

Sure, merchants, merchant card processing providers, credit card companies, etc. could possibly make the technology changes to better track SNAP/TANF purchases. What is in it for them? What is the return on investment? Especially if the rules are changing constantly and if each state has different rules. I guess somewhere along the way the $16.5 billion in TANF money disbursed annually might provide incentive, I don't know how it compares to money spent on technology to generate income from other sources.

Besides, there are few federal requirements as to how TANF money can be spent. As mentioned by Randy, only recently were there changes to federal law that require states to prohibit the use of TANF EBT cards at liquor stores, casinos, adult entertainment and the like. But that change is not required to be implemented until Feb. 22, 2014, as Randy said.

R. Neal's picture

Great discussion about

Great discussion about nutrition, food stamps and other benefits.

I would like to re-emphasize one of the main points of the article, which is the systematic propaganda campaign by right-wing conservatives to make you believe that the federal government is spending your hard-earned taxpayer dollars to provide free liquor and lap dances to moochers. In the process, they falsely suggest that legitimate uses of welfare benefits are also somehow fraudulent and abusive.

This is just wrong, and it demeans the majority of good, honest people who just need a little help. Ironically, one of the original ideas behind EBT cards, besides efficiency and cost savings, was to reduce the grocery store checkout line stigma of using food stamps. No good deed goes unpunished.

Average Guy's picture

Sorry for the derail

And it's not that much different than the whole voter fraud furor.

When you don't have real issues to run on, make stuff up or make mountains where there are only tiny mole hills.

Does abuse in the system occur? Yes. Show me any system where it doesn't.

Somebody's picture

"I Was A Welfare Mother"


She explains it better than I can.

"The college-loan folks knew about the work-study grants, the welfare office knew about the college loans, and each application form was a sworn form, my signature attesting to the truth of the numbers. Still, I constantly worried that I’d lose our benefits. More than once, the state sent 'inspectors' — a knock at the door, someone insisting he had a right to inspect the premises. One inspector, fixating on my closet, fingered a navy blue Brooks Brothers blazer that I wore to work. 'I’d be interested to know how you can afford this,' she said.

"It was from a yard sale. 'Take your hands off my clothing,' I said. My benefits were promptly suspended pending status clarification. I had to borrow from friends for food and rent, not to mention toilet paper."


"I was not an exception in that little Section 8 neighborhood. Among those welfare moms were future teachers, nurses, scientists, business owners, health and safety advocates. We never believed we were 'victims' or felt 'entitled'; if anything, we felt determined. Wouldn’t any decent person throw a rope to a drowning person? Wouldn’t any drowning person take it?"

"Judge-and-punish-the-poor is not a demonstration of American values. It is, simply, mean."

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Probably 4 or so miles to Kroger, and Food City and Bi-Lo are gone.

Isn't walking pace about three miles per hour?

I'd think that an hour and twenty minutes is a pretty long trek when you're dragging home eight or ten plastic bags full of groceries.

Especially if it's raining and you don't have an extra hand to hold an umbrella over your head.

(These are the folks I pick up on Clinton Highway a couple of times a week, every week, for years now. Lots of trailer parks just outside the city limits, which boundary is at Callahan Drive and Clinton Highway.)

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I also see three different parties--two men and a woman--taking motorized wheelchairs up and down Clinton Highway to do shopping, as well as trying to cross Clinton Highway (six lanes at intersections) in them.

I actually pulled over, got out of my car, and stood in the middle of the road with my hand up to stop cars one day when one of these two men was trying to cross where there was no traffic light.

Their's is a spooky mode of transportation in these parts...

fischbobber's picture

An observation

We do a horrible job mentoring and teaching at risk students the fundamentals of money management at the high school level. We don't teach kids how to break through the barriers and obstacles facing those that try to advance their economic station, and then we wonder and lament that it isn't happening. Pogo was right.

Up Goose Creek's picture


I was going to say +1 to this but my informally adopted "at risk" kids have been around me enough to know I don't buy sodas at restaurants/fast food/convenience stores. This doesn't stop them from buying the sodas even when they are facing hard times. It seems there is a culture of immediate gratification.

fischbobber's picture


Great observation, but I would even take it one step further. Weaning kids from poor lifestyle decisions takes an incredible amount of time and effort. Not just at risk kids, all kids.

At a recent Boy Scout campout, I saw a perfect illustration of this. One of three patrols had Beanie Weenies for dinner, s'mores for desert. One group had petros for dinner and s'mores for desert. One group made lasagna in a dutch oven and had apple cobbler cooked in a dutch oven for desert. The cobbler group had kids from other patrols lined up for their leftover cobbler, thereby making cleanup easier. Neither s'mores group even thought ahead to bring roasting sticks for their marshmallows and the patrol leaders did not even have the foresight to have their patrol gather enough firewood to build a campfire to roast the marshmallows. It soon became obvious that the easy way out was going to be for the adult leaders to supply marshmallow roasting sticks (pack of 4, $1.89 at Kroger, Target or Walmart) and let them use our fire. What followed was pandemonium and what should have been a relaxing evening after an exhausting, but extremely productive and positive day turned into a clean your room, pick up this candy wrapper, "Whose dropping marshmallows all over my stuff so the raccoons and bears will smell it and carry it off?", and finally the "All right, That's it leave this fire." evening.

What I saw, was that the patrol that did the prep and made the better meal, was now working on issues like," How do we pack a cooler to keep our food from getting wet?" and general cooking and lifestyle issues that will seperate their camping experiences from Beanie Weenies and canned beef stew for the rest of their lives. Their dessert was cheaper, healthier, better tasting , cleaner, and more satisfying than s'mores. They were developing successful lifestyle skills, while their peers were taking the easy way out. At the school age level, the common denominator of instant gratification transcends all. It is up to the adults to teach planning and preparation.

We should probably ban s'mores. The boys aren't Cub Scouts any more. It's time to move on.

bizgrrl's picture

We should probably ban

We should probably ban s'mores

You can't be serious.

fischbobber's picture

Serious as a heart attack

The two groups that had s'mores on their menu were regressing as Scouts. Their lack of planning and preparation, as well as their unwillingness to actually gather stick with which to build a fire was contrary to everything we were trying to teach. In addition, the older Scouts in those patrols had an obligation to the younger scouts to lead and watch over and teach them, in among other things, leave no trace. Their total abdication of their responsibilities, combined with a pure sugar rush and the insulin spike, puts too much extra work on the extremely limited number of adults that actually show up to make these things happen. We can solve these problems with proper menu planning before we leave for camp, thereby teaching creative thinking and planning as opposed to teaching that the adults will always bail you out.

Or, I suppose the dads could go on strike and let the moms take them and practice whatever techniques they might feel would work.

CathyMcCaughan's picture

giving Bob the side eye

I can't decide if you are attempting to make some kind of analogy to the the topic of this thread or being hyperbolic about marshmallows but,

the apple cobbler patrol is led by teens who spent five bazillion hours researching and planning camping food for a 10 day Utah trip. Comparing their camping skills to those of the 11-y-o scouts who still call home every night on camping trips is a little bit unfair.

They are all still children. They are allowed to have treats and fun.

fischbobber's picture

All the patrols were lead by teens.

And that is the point. One of the functions of scouting is to teach foresight, planning and accountability. Another Utah scout lead one of the other patrols and yet another Utah scout was at least a member of the third.

The cobbler patrol stepped up, no doubt. But the other two regressed.

I spent all day working with these kids. They had the capability to gather sticks. They had the means and where-with-all to make their s'mores choice work, but when it came time to put forth the effort, they didn't do it. And because of the pure sugar nature of their choice, and the effect it has on hyped up sixth graders, when the adults relented and helped out it blew up in our faces. Well, not totally, the raccoons and bears left us alone so that was a good thing.

Don't get me wrong, it was the best campout I've ever been a part of in my life. The scouts were engaged and participating in a variety of activities including fishing, canoeing, biking, knot tying and scout skills, hiking, pick-up football, cooking, and of course camping. The only down-side was the s'mores and the only reason they were a downside is that the decision to have them was made to avoid effort, rather than for the grand experience of s'mores.

Scouting is about teaching life skills. If the adults don't teach the kids to push themselves and hold them accountable for both their decisions and behavior, how are they supposed to learn? And that is where we come back to topic. These sorts of life skills are not being taught and as a consequence we have a whole generation of people (it's way beyond kids) making lifestyle decisions that are in conflict with their own self interest. It's not going to hurt any scout in our troop to have to learn to make cookies in a dutch oven, (a roll of Pillsbury cookie dough, a can of Pam and a few pieces of charcoal will do the trick) and it's no less a treat than s'mores. But by forcing them to look at other alternatives (cookies, cakes, carmel coated apples, home churned ice cream (easily doable in the field)) we teach them to recognize that they have choices and that often, it only takes a little thought, foresight, planning and effort, to make one's life better. The process of thinking things through is important, and part of being involved as a scout leader is a willingness to hold the kids accountable for that aspect of scouting. It's not all about money.

Furthermore, if we teach these things at a high school level, (sort of a home economics meets personal management class) we could at least provide a platform from which one has a reasonable shot at improving one's station in life. I've been working with kids most of my life, and my experience is that most want to learn. Most of them want to develop skills and talents, but without guidance and teaching, most will fade into the woodwork. They need encouragement and that often means pulling them out of their comfort zones. We won't ever get rid of the need to help people out with food. We can teach folks to better help themselves.

bizgrrl's picture

Me thinks you take this very

Me thinks you take this very seriously. Gathering sticks and banning s'mores just don't seem to work out to the same lesson.

Scouting is about teaching life skills. If the adults don't teach the kids to push themselves and hold them accountable for both their decisions and behavior, how are they supposed to learn?

I'd never have made it on one of your long term scouting trips. All of the lessons you speak of were taught to me and learned by me, although not always retained. We, as Girl Scouts, were allowed s'mores. But, then heh, I never went on a 10 day camping trip to Utah with the Girl Scouts. Sounds like I, at 11 years of age, might have been begging for my Mom and Dad early on in that trip.

Sure hope you tried shorter camping trips for training purposes. So you, as a troop leader (or whatever), wouldn't be surprised by the capabilities of the scouts.

fischbobber's picture


One of the more charming definitions of insanity I've heard through the years is that it's doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This group didn't have great results with s'mores as Cub Scouts and they're not getting it as Boy Scouts either. In the sixties and seventies when I was growing up, wildlife populations were at all time lows and the idea of mandatory bear proofing a campsite was unheard of. There was no coyote population to speak of east of the Mississippi. This all being said......

"Pushing" a sixth grade scout means making him tie his own knots and put on his own sinkers on his fishing rig. It means teaching him to count the number of fellow scouts and leaders at the start and finish of any hike, no matter how short. It means giving instruction and getting out of the way to let the child grow on his own. It means recognizing accomplishment while reminding the Scout that short term failure is often a part of long term success. (Sometimes you just have to break off the hook and start over. Just don't throw it back over there. It's O.K. I've been snagged hundreds of times. Learn from it.) It means teaching the basics of personal and group responsibility.

And just so you know, we have great kids. They get it. Setting up and breaking down camp, no problem. Being active, engaged, teachable and a true joy to work with, no problem. Feeding themselves, well, mostly they got it done. It's been an issue of focus for about 1 1/2 years and I can honestly say the kids are improving. We had full troop participation in the various activities and outstanding cooperation from the kids on following Boy Scout protocol. That all being said.......

At the Cub Scout level, there was always a s'mores issue. No trash bags, no marshmallow roasting sticks, someone throwing something toxic into the fire, no graham crackers, melted chocolate bars, general disorganization and disregard for basic fire safety, something seemingly every time it was tried. Not much changed as the boys became Boy Scouts. I'm not a big fan of the activity and as the boys progress through the ranks of scouting it has become more of a lazy way out of work rather than a highly anticipated activity . It's not that s'mores are difficult, but it has become the scarlet letter of halfassedness for our group. I personally am done with it. I've been involved with this same group of people for nine years. That's enough time to get a system down to cook s'mores. It's how long we've been trying. It's time to move on.

Strewn about melted marshmallows attract skunks, raccoons, bears as well as a variety of vermin. Again, I don't know why someone didn't just write up a list of things needed for s'mores and check it off, but, I'm not a big believer in pure sugar as a healthy nutritional choice, so I wasn't going to do it on principles sake. I believe sugar is a preservative, not a food group. Chocolate bar wrappers are trash and don't belong on the ground and picnic tables or blowing around the campsite. Had none of the stuff creating these problems existed at this camp, no one would have noticed. Yes, I do take this stuff serious. We had six adults and sixteen kids. We had two deep protocol. We'd been working from dawn til dusk and I took offense at having to deal with this problem.

We have a shortage of adults willing to give their time to work with children. Perhaps you would consider helping out a local Boy or Girl Scout troop. You could be in charge of s'mores and change my views on the subject by handling sixteen boys and maintaining a safe campsite.

Average Guy's picture

Dutch oven apple cobbler isn't a treat?

Any of these issues taken in individual examples will seem trivial. The overarching issue, which is as much about mindset than food alone, is not a trivial matter.

Calypso's picture

No confusion at all, they know how to do it

The scammers know how to scam their EBT cards. If you don't think these EBT cards are being used to buy drugs, you live in a world of denial. Combine this with TennCare and the Tennessee Pill Mills, well you get the idea. This is how stupid Tennessee is. So when CrackHead/MethHead/OxyHead Charlie is breaking into your house, remember how you were compassionate.

EBT cards create crime. This is a stupid way to do benefits.



"The benefits get loaded on an EBT card, similar to a debit card, but there is a set amount of money each month. Users can swipe the card for purchases or withdraw cash from an ATM. However, the Tennessee Department of Human Services admits it does not have a way to track where that cash is spent."

Somebody's picture

You should actually look at the WBIR link

From the WBIR story:

"In Tennessee, recipients get an average of $165 per month. DHS records show it handed out $2,645,955.17 in the city of Knoxville from January to July 2012. That's 62,920 transactions."

Hillary Lake is the person who reported this story. She's the same person who dug through the Tourism and Sports Corps finances and raised the questions there, so presumably she has some skill at sorting through financial reports and finding issues. With that said, she found and reported on $253.41 worth of financial discrepancies. These consisted of an ATM withdrawal of $42 at a strip club, $43 "redeemed" at a night club, $62.50 at a bar/pizzza joint, and $105.91 in collected transactions at a discount tobacco and grocery. Again, that's a total of $253.41 out of a multi-million dollar program.

This is not an indication of rampant abuse. This is an indication of a few people making questionable charges that the agency should no doubt look into. Hillary Lake didn't report any difficulty in obtaining records, and didn't report these figures as something that was immediately found from just a cursory look at a few pages of records. There's nothing in the report to suggest that these were just a few examples of many more questionable transactions like them. She says she spent six months looking, and this is what she found.

Still they ran with the report, and ran advertisements yesterday evening, enticing viewers to tune in for this report, implying that this would be a big expose. There was no expose.

You would think that if there were a significant problem here, the first report from a six month investigation would, if anything had actually been found, lead with something like "We found tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars in questionable charges. Here, we have examples of charges to strip joints, night clubs, and tobacco stores!" But no, they reported on precisely $253.41 worth of questionable charges, with no indication that there's more where that came from.

This is either the worst opening story in a series on waste, fraud and abuse, or they spent six months, didn't find much, and couldn't bear to report that they'd spent all that time and didn't find anything.

Of course, the real problem here -the travesty- is the fact that we have yet another sensationalized report that maligns the poor, portraying them as a bunch of shiftless scammers, wasting your tax money. People will look at the headline and not actually consider the details of the report. So once again, people who get an average of $165 per month in assistance from this program are portrayed as undeserving leeches, while the folks who looted billions from everyone's retirement funds continue to be subsidized through lower tax rates and hailed as entrepreneurs and "job creators." It's disgusting.

Pickens's picture

Money is amoral. It's how it

Money is amoral. It's how it is used.

It's like a brick-it can be used to build a hospital or be thrown through a window.

Up Goose Creek's picture


It is a crime to sell (rent) your SNAP card for cash. It happens.

Up Goose Creek's picture


Often the money is used to illegally obtain drugs. Would the crime of obtaining drugs occur less often without the SNAP payents? One could argue either way.

Calypso's picture

Naive at the atomic level

"It is illegal to rent the card, and it would be illegal to use the proceed to get drugs."


Calypso's picture

Bizarro logic

"We'd need to dig a bit, but I would hypothesize that increases in EBT use lowers crime."

Your point is Crackhead Charlie doesn't need to kick in your front door for his drug money if he can steal it from the EBT?

This is how the EBT lowers crime?

Calypso's picture

minorities get EBT cards

The anti-thinking rock protects you. What percentage of EBT use in Tennessee do you think is minorities? A minority? Excluding for Memphis, which is its own city state, do you think Meth and Oxy use is done much by minorities?

Keep rubbing your rock. If you rub hard enough maybe it will reverse polarity and you might gain an IQ point or two. Maybe if you rub it enough you could get a GED. Maybe.

KC's picture

I don't think the EBT program

I don't think the EBT program itself causes crime.

Maybe subsidizes it in some cases.

There are a lot of pitiful stories of people on EBT.

There are also those who meet the income requirements and resource requirements, but come in with Iphones, not Safelink, $80 cable bills, and higher cell phone bills.

You're limited as a caseworker in what you can ask, and the consequences of asking are usually non-productive, as in "my mom (or whoever pays it)."

It's a lot like "don't ask, don't tell." And there is no time to investigate, plus applicants win 95% of the time when they appeal an application denial. Supervisors will tell you that when you start being a caseworker.

That said, people have to be fed. I'm glad no one is on the streets starving as in some countries. I'm glad kids don't starve because they can't get food, other than due to neglect. And don't misread, I'm not happy about that. But that's a DCS and not necessarily DHS problem.

But there are a lot of problems in the system.

Calypso's picture

The literalist strike again

Nuance is difficult here isn't it? I've bad news for you. TennCare creates crime too. It is the largest drug pusher in the world.

Those who can process thought would understand the statements, "EBT cards create crime. This is a stupid way to do benefits" means that the EBT program allows many ways for criminal minds to scam the system.

Does that mean we should do away with EBT cards?

Think carefully KnoxViews before answering.

Or does it mean that the state of Tennessee should fix the many ways to scam EBT cards?

Still don't get it do you? Open your mind.

Calypso's picture

I have an magic anti-tiger rock.

You have an anti-thinking rock. It works too.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Smug Pollution

I know Smores aren't the healthiest thing ever - but neither is smug pollution.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


We do a horrible job mentoring and teaching at risk students the fundamentals of money management at the high school level. We don't teach kids how to break through the barriers and obstacles facing those that try to advance their economic station, and then we wonder and lament that it isn't happening. Pogo was right.

FYI, Bob, all Tennessee's high school students who became freshmen during or after fall of 2009 now have to complete a semester of Personal Finance coursework to earn a diploma (this requirement being a part of the Tennessee Diploma Project curriculum).

But yeah, I have to say I've known an awful lot of adult po' folks over the years who seemed to me would probably be po' again six months after winning the Powerball...

Last week I picked up someone walking with packages here in my residential area. The guy lived in a nearby apartment and told me on the way there that his electricity was to be cut off that day and he had a flat tire on his car that he couldn't afford to address. He said his package was a purchase he'd tried to return to a store, so that he could apply the money to his electric bill, but that the store wouldn't take his purchase back (?).

Anyway, after I let him off at his building, I went home and rounded up a few groceries to run back to him. His wife said he'd left again for Knoxville Center Mall, though, with another purchase--a pair of shoes--that he was going to try to return. She said "so maybe that's $90 we can put toward the electric bill."

I couldn't help myself. I blurted out "what's he doing buying $90 shoes?!"

I gave 'em the groceries, but I left feeling I'd been had.

And I'll have to respectfully disagree with our host that anyone should be using an EBT card at Dillards. They shouldn't be (nor should Dillards be authorized to accept them).

Min's picture

'I couldn't help myself. I

'I couldn't help myself. I blurted out "what's he doing buying $90 shoes?!"'

Is $90 really that much for a good pair of shoes that will last, especially if a person does a lot of walking?

bizgrrl's picture


Is $90 really that much for a good pair of shoes that will last, especially if a person does a lot of walking?

Yes. Especially if you cannot afford food or electricity.

Average Guy's picture

Reckon he went to Knox Center

Reckon he went to Knox Center Mall barefooted? And shoes being new enough to return suggests his current pair wasn't so bad he didn't need to immediately change them. And $90 for a pair when when you're faced with other hardships is ridiculous. One can get good shoes that will last a year much cheaper.

There appears to be little to no limits for some on how their taxes are used. I suppose this thread is a prime example of how things get "complicated".

Arguing for unhealthy food, for using assistance in department stores instead of discount stores and since there is little waste it's not that big a deal, simply doesn't seem logical.

Maybe the focus of this thread should be directed to the Bloomberg mayors challenge, where Rogero's team laid out a plan that should have none of these complications.

R. Neal's picture

Yeah, Crocs are only $40.

Yeah, Crocs are only $40. /sarcasm

fischbobber's picture

Personal Finance classes

I will tentatively say that this is a step in the right direction. I hope it works.

R. Neal's picture

Dillard's ain't all that.

Dillard's ain't all that. Knoxville doesn't really have a high-end department store. I can imagine a closeout/end-of-season sale at Dillards, perhaps on a tax-free holiday, where you can buy a nice outfit for a job interview for pennies on the dollar.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Toby and Min, the average household income here in Knox County (per MPC data) is just $46K. These folks down the road from me surely have less. Folks at this income level can't afford $90 shoes for any reason, nor even $15 shirts.

FYI (and since Bob is so focused on Boy Scouts in this thread), I bought my own Boy Scout a pair of brand spanking new-in-the-box Merrell hiking boots at Goodwill recently for $2 (they sell for $150). A week later, I spotted a very nearly new pair of Timberland hikers a half size larger--he's still growing--for $2, too. I snatched them up, as well, since they also sell for around $150.

At Goodwill's monthly half-price sale, men's dress shirts run $1.50 and I've lucked up on many over the years with the department store price tags still attached.

Like Goose, I don't buy soft drinks in fast food restaurants, either (nor even visit fast food restaurants very often). I'm the person who doesn't yet feel that I should spend on a cell phone and I reluctantly agreed to just the "basic cable" package that runs $15 per month, remember?!

I opened my first mutual fund with a minimum $25 per month bank draft, after I had acquired the $500 minimum balance to open the account by making $5 deposits into my passbook account at the bank.

This is the methodology that enabled me to graduate from college with honors and without debt in an extended family where I was the first female graduate on one side of the family and only the second female graduate on the other side.

It's the methodology that enabled me to become one of only two female homeowners among my nine female cousins locally (the other one being the other female college graduate), prior to the time I married. Unlike the majority of Americans, I am following a schedule for paying it off, too (the second home I'm in now, I mean). It's my only debt.

By the time I was thirty, I had a year's income in the bank. That was still a modest amount, given how little I earned at that age, but it's nevertheless a feat the majority of Americans have not accomplished at any age.

I don't mean to sound petty or mean-spirited on this subject. It's just that I understand the kind of day-to-day decisions that those of us lacking a trust fund must make in order to meet our financial goals. I've lived that life, all my life.

When I married, I had quite a bit of educatin' to do on the mister, who all his life had some get rich quick scheme in his hip pocket. Lacking the capital to enact any of them, he'd repeatedly tell me "if I only had a nut..." and I'd respond "you gotta make your own nut."

And you do, sometimes $5 at a time.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


I said: "...those of us lacking a trust fund..."

Toby and Min, that sounded snitty and I didn't mean for it to.

I don't know whether you two personally have a trust fund or not, but if you do I think that's great!

Do remember your friends!

Average Guy's picture

Quality vs. affordability

This argument has nothing to do with being poor, it relates to making good verses poor decisions.

Many people in different social strata can't afford a brand new Chevy Cruze or Mercedes 3 series.

While anyone should be able to recognize German engineering is better, they should also acquiesce they can't own a Mercedes when their income allows only the Chevy.

If you can't pay your bills for electricity, Payless it is, because simple math says it has to be.

Min's picture

No, I don't have a trust fund. I have a job.

It's not quite as good, but I make do. :-)

I see a good pair of shoes for a person who walks to work and is on his/her feet all day to be an investment in work attire and good health. If I was going to buy anything with my scarce work clothing dollars, good shoes would be number one on the list.

And it's great that you found such good bargains at Goodwill. I've found bargains at Goodwill, too. I just wonder how many trips someone would have to make to Goodwill to find exactly the one thing that the person needs, as compared to making one trip to a store that sells exactly what he/she needs.

Pam Strickland's picture

My Aunt Janice and I have a

My Aunt Janice and I have a saying, "There are two things that you don't buy cheap, shoes and toilet paper. But that doesn't mean you pay full price."

I go to consignment and rummage sales, but I mostly shop clearance at the department stores. Good shoes for walking and standing are a must. No, don't pay full price for the $90 shoes, but, yeah, you can get them on sale. And Dillard's has some damn good sales. When I lived in Little Rock and worked with the public more so needed professional clothes all the time, I had a great women at their flagship store, who knew what I liked and would call me right before a sale and we would have a blast with putting together outfits. I would get five and six pieces for what one would be full price. And it was stuff that would last forever. Now, I don't need that much professional wear, so I just watch the sales and get a few pieces here and there.

Tamara Shepherd's picture


Just to clarify, Toby, I'm fairly quality-conscious myself, which is exactly why I prefer Goodwill over Payless (or Wal-mart or such). I get the merchandise I want at the price I feel I can afford. So we're in agreement on that point.

And Min, this guy I mentioned does own a car. He said he had a flat tire he couldn't afford to repair (possibly because of his poor purchasing habits?).

Really, if he did routinely need to walk to work from the neighborhood he and I live in, he'd be smarter to save up first and last month's rent for another apartment on a bus line, rather than spend his scarce $$$ on pricey shoes. His current apartment is about two miles (45 minutes on foot) from a grocery store or a laundromat, too! That's alot of time to spend draggin' stuff up and down Clinton Highway...

I tend to think Goose had it right when she observed that the problem is one of wanting "instant gratification."

Up Goose Creek's picture


I think a lot of it could be about appearences. If you don't have money it someohow seems more important to appear that you DO have money.

I blame our culture and the TeeVee for this.

fischbobber's picture

Our system

Our system encourages conformance. Even with the broad range of viewpoints presented within this forum, there are trends of like thinking people bonding and agreeing seemingly for the sake of agreeing. I've done it, and I've noticed that most here have as well, at least on occasion. It's human nature to want to be a part of something larger than ones self.

The problem would seem to lie in the absence of thinking in one's own self interest.

Personally, I blame the republicans. (link...)

bizgrrl's picture

I think you should speak for

"Even with the broad range of viewpoints presented within this forum, there are trends of like thinking people bonding and agreeing seemingly for the sake of agreeing. I've done it, and I've noticed that most here have as well, at least on occasion."

I think you should speak for yourself and not others.

Min's picture


I thought he was speaking for himself.

redmondkr's picture

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix

Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix agreed to live for a time on a food budget equivalent to that of a typical SNAP recipient.


fischbobber's picture

On teaching the next generation


When you get to the end, notice that the elementary students tend to be eating the food. Check for s'mores.

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