How do you identify food stamp fraud just by looking at someone? If you're Rep. Markwayne Mullin, you do it by the size of the guy's muscles. Speaking at a town hall meeting this week, the Oklahoma Republican held forth on a recent Washington, D.C.-area shopping trip he'd made during which, noticing that all the aisles were open but there were still long lines, he realized it was the first of the month and the lines were people using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. And that's when he saw the obvious fraud. How did he know he was seeing fraud? Simple:
I’m looking over, and there’s a couple beside me. This guy was built like a brick house. I mean he had muscles all over him. He was in a little tank top and pair of shorts and really nice Nike shoes. And she was standing there, and she was all in shape and she looked like she had just come from a fitness program. She was in the spandex, and you know, they were both physically fit. And they go up in front of me and they pay with that card. Fraud. Absolute 100% all it is is fraud. [...] It’s all over the place. And there you go, to the fact that we shouldn’t be supporting those who won’t work. They’re spending their money someplace.Actually, the SNAP fraud rate is extremely low. Like one percent low. Not to mention there are a few other explanations for people who don't look like Markwayne Mullin thinks poor people ought to look legitimately getting food stamps.
First off, since when is physically fitness evidence you can't be poor? Because, what, everyone knows that poor people are fat? Who knows, maybe one or both of these people has a part-time job as a fitness trainer or aerobics instructor, working hard to try and make a living. Maybe Mr. Built Like a Brick House has a minimum-wage job as a mover or at a loading dock. You know, one of the many jobs that leave American workers relying on food stamps and other government aid. Maybe they were laid off from good jobs and are just trying to stay in shape—going for a jog to keep themselves healthy and motivated—while they look for work.
Those are just a few possibilities out of many. Because when there are three job seekers for every job, it's not like there's just one reason you'd be unemployed or underemployed. And the thing is, I don't know their lives. Neither does Mullin. But one of us jumped straight to the thought that there is only one possible explanation for healthy-looking people having SNAP benefits, and that one explanation is fraud. Then again, this is a man whose aw-shucks folksy routine at the beginning of his fraud anecdote involved not having been able to find a Safeway in the District of Columbia—even with a list of addresses in hand—because he was looking for a big parking lot, not the entrance to a garage. Someone who can't identify a grocery store without a parking lot, yet thinks he can spot food stamp fraud based on a bicep.