Carrot or Stick

Food insecurity is a reality for thousands of American families. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an imperfect but vital lifeline. The federal assistance program meets the nutritional needs of thousands of low-income American families. The Trump administration recently passed unprecedented restrictions that will prevent roughly 700,000 unemployed individuals from receiving nutritional assistance through SNAP. Unfortunately, this dramatic news has largely been ignored, drowned in the din of presidential impeachment and military intervention overseas.

It should be apparent to most that nutrition and access to sustenance is the cornerstone of health, well-being and overall survival. To exact such a heavy hardship on those who already are suffering the most is unconscionable—and counterproductive. Research by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) suggests that policies to take away SNAP, Medicaid and housing assistance from individuals who are not working or participating in work activities will hurt, not help, the individuals most in need of assistance. Let us put to rest the notion that these restrictive policies are going to act as the catalyst that suddenly catapults individuals to stability and produces a more productive society.

It would be reckless to say that SNAP is ideal. This isn’t a perfect world. Every system is vulnerable to those who would try to take advantage of it, and SNAP is not immune. Despite this, SNAP is a necessary and vital tool in assisting many underserved individuals. Posing this kind of restriction is tantamount to removing services and moves us away from the stated goal of helping people. A reduction in provisions does not propel people in the positive direction; rather it does the opposite. Eliminating services is more about punishing people and putting them in harm’s way than providing them with the impetus to make positive changes.

There is an argument to be made that change is necessary, important and inevitable. There is no resistance to the idea, concept and need for change. To remain in complacency is not a virtue, thus this should not be an aspirational goal for any program. In turn, change for the sake of change is a dangerous strategy to employ and has rarely ever yielded much in positive results. But this decision is not a positive change, nor is it meant to be positive. This is punitive. It will punish those already downtrodden and confine them all the more hopelessly to their lot.

Progressive change is about empowering and uplifting. This policy is not. It is neither thoughtful nor compassionate. This unenlightened policy is perverse and inhumane. This is cruelty cloaked in the veneer of change. Real, positive change looks to enfranchise and inspire individuals and place them in a better situation. Real fundamental change does not obfuscate or harm the recipient.

When discussing change, a common motivational tool is whether to employ a carrot or stick. It appears this administration has opted for the stick and has literally and figuratively forsaken the carrot. Whether it is overtly or covertly, if one agrees with this new policy, it is an abdication of moral reasoning and a rationalization for cruelty. Our nation is better than that. This is an appeal to the better angels of our nature. We are not mean-spirited or vindictive; rather, we are open and kind by nature. We need to continue to think about the welfare of our fellow citizens not by denying them services but by thinking of ways to empower them.


Iyengar is a Jacksonville-based family physician with experience advising in health, nutrition and lifestyle.