Requiring an ID to Eat?! The Right-Wing's Next Crazy Plot Against Low-Income Americans

Food stamp recipients will have their grocery store humiliation compounded by having to show a photo ID in order to buy food if Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) gets his way.

Under a bill Vitter introduced Wednesday, beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would be denied their food if they are unable to show a photographic identification card at the register. For millions of low-income Americans who don’t have an official photo ID and can’t necessarily afford to buy one, Vitter’s bill would mean being cut off from their primary food source.

Estimates of how many people are without the kind of ID Vitter wants to require are a bit fuzzy, as researchers have tended to focus on the issue in the context of voting rights, but multiple surveys have found that around 10 percent of the voting public doesn’t have a state-issued ID. One survey of voting-age citizens in 2006 put the ID-less proportion of the population at 11 percent, meaning that more than 21 million people nationwide likely lack photo ID, and found that one in four African-Americans surveyed had no ID.

The press release offers no indication that Vitter’s bill would help provide IDs for those who need them, as many states do with voter ID cards. But even if even if everyone could easily get an identification card, his bill would still heap additional humiliation on poor, hungry people.

Vitter cites one fluke technological failure with the SNAP system and says the legislation “will restore some accountability to the program so it’s not ruined for people who use it appropriately,” suggesting that “fraud surrounding the taxpayer-funded program” is part of why SNAP costs doubled since 2008. While Republicans frequently employ that same dishonest talking point, the reality is that food programs have the lowest fraud rates of any public program. At 1 percent, SNAP fraud rates pale in comparison to the rate of fraud in the farm assistance programs that conservatives like Vitter are attempting to shelter from cuts in the ongoing farm bill fight.

Nutrition assistance programs deliver those very low fraud rates despite serving an immense need. Roughly 50 million Americans cannot afford sufficient food. One American child out of every five lives in hunger. Food charities say they cannot pick up the slack the government leaves when it cuts food stamps because they are already stretched beyond capacity.

In fact, the cost of SNAP doubled because of the financial crisis and ensuing recession in which millions of people lost their livelihoods and turned to safety net programs. Because enrollment and spending levels for food stamps fluctuate with overall economic conditions, SNAP costs are already falling as the economy improves. If Congress wants to cut the cost of the program in half, all it has to do is wait a few years.


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