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Nanny State of the Week: Feds marketing food stamps with bingo games, TV ads

By   /   March 14, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 73 of 88 in the series Nanny State of the Week

Maybe you don’t want to depend on food stamps to feed your family.

Image via Wiki Commons

ITS A SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has seen a huge increase in enrollment over the past decade. One reason: The federal government is actively trying to hook new people into the program.

Maybe the federal government can convince you otherwise.

For seven years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been using food stamp funds to run a recruitment program that attempts to convince more American to sign up for the welfare program.

The so-called “SNAP Outreach Plans” (SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the technical name for the food stamp program) have included taxpayer-funded advertising on radio and television, bingo games intended to lure seniors into signing up for the program and even “food stamp parties” organized by state level SNAP officials.

The efforts have apparently paid off, as the number of Americans signed up for food stamps has skyrocketed in recent years.

In 2000, 17 million Americans were getting food stamps. Last year the number rose to 46 million, down a tick from the peak of 47 million in 2012.

That’s not to say that food stamps are a part of the nanny state, though some might feel that way. Providing food to those who are truly needy is a sensible part of a basic government safety net.

But recruiting people into that program – persuading Americans to accept welfare that they may not want, or need – that’s a Nanny State policy by any definition of the term.

A few years back, the Washington Post took a look at those recruiting efforts. Alabama hands out fliers that read: “Be a patriot. Bring your food stamp money home,” the paper reported.

The piece centered on Dillie Nerios, a USDA food stamp recruiter in Florida.

“Help is available,” she tells hundreds of seniors each week, the Post wrote. “You deserve it. So, yes or no?”

It’s subtle, but the language being used there is straight out of the Nanny State playbook. “Bring your money home.” “You deserve it.” You’re paying for those government benefits that others are receiving, so why not get a piece of the action for yourself. It’s a message that appeals simultaneously to the altruistic and selfish parts of human nature, without causing the two to contradict each other.

And don’t blame President Barack Obama – or at least don’t blame only Obama. The USDA started running radio ads encouraging Americans to sign up for food stamps back in 2004. During the George W. Bush administration, food stamp enrollment climbed by 63 percent, a good portion of that total coming before the Great Recession.

But this is one nanny state problem that might be getting a solution.

A proposed new rule would prevent the USDA from using those recruiting tools to persuade Americans to sign up for SNAP.

“Persuasive practices constitute coercing or pressuring an individual to apply, or providing incentives to fill out an application,” the rule says. That means no more food stamp bingo nights, no more high-pressure advertising on radio and TV.

The new rule is the result of the 2014 farm bill, which instructed the USDA to change its policy and stop government agents from coercing people into joining the food stamp brigade. It may not do much to reduce the number of people on the rolls, but it will at least do away with the disturbing paternalistic sign-up efforts.

The lesson in all this: Government should measure the success of its welfare programs by how many people are lifted out of poverty.

A nanny state measures success by how many people it can get enrolled into government programs, outcomes be damned.

Part of 88 in the series Nanny State of the Week
  1. Nanny-state state of the week: MD may become first to ban Vaportinis
  2. Nanny-state city of the week: Minneapolis wants to ban take-out trays
  3. Skim is in: CT lawmakers want to ban whole milk in day cares
  4. Nanny state of the week: Fairfax, VA, wants to limit the right to assemble
  5. Nanny state of the week: SC — and Schumer — for duplicative efforts to ban powdered alcohol
  6. Nanny of the Week: Virginia hoses down car wash fundraisers
  7. Nanny of the Week: Even a summertime trip to the beach can’t be nanny-free
  8. Nanny of the week: Federal authorities think feral cats can read signs
  9. Nanny of the week: Cambridge wants to ban ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft
  10. Nanny-stater of the week: NY lawmaker wants to ban photos with tigers
  11. Nanny-stater of the Week: Who needs cupcakes and candy? Here, have a pencil
  12. Nanny-stater of the week: Fargo limits kids to less than four shots of juice per day
  13. Nanny-stater of the week: Wisconsin towns fight repeal of bow ban
  14. Nanny of the week: No fun in the sun, thanks to Congress and FDA
  15. Nanny-stater of the week: DOT to ban cell phone use on planes
  16. Nanny of the week: The out-of-control trend of arresting non-helicopter moms
  17. Nanny of the Week: Vermont city could ban ‘human activity’
  18. Nanny of the Week: Mississippi makes bird feeders illegal – by accident
  19. Nanny of the week: MO town bans breastfeeding near pools
  20. Nanny of the Week: School bans lip balm, 11 year-old girl fights back
  21. blows lid off Vermont’s bake sale brownie ban
  22. Nanny of the Week: Seattle imposes fine on residents who throw away food
  23. Nanny of the Week: California bans plastic bags
  24. Nanny of the week: Maybe this time it will be different for Chicago
  25. Nanny of the Week: Florida growls at craft breweries’ growlers
  26. Nanny of the Week: Massachusetts town seeking to ban tobacco faces uprising from residents
  27. Nanny of the Week: Proposed bans on Thanksgiving Day shopping
  28. Nanny of the week: U.S. government bans ‘Comfyballs’ underwear
  29. Nanny of the Week: Better take down those holiday decorations
  30. Nanny of the week: Towns ban sledding
  31. Nanny of the Week: New York City plans to ban out-of-state cars
  32. Nanny of the Week: Snow-shoveling teens get in trouble with the law
  33. Nanny of the Week: Get caught wearing yoga pants three times, go to jail for life
  34. Nanny of the Week: Georgia lawmaker wants to ban mermaids, werewolves, other fictional creatures from real life
  35. Nanny State of the Week: Endangering manatees in Florida
  36. Nanny of the Week: Christie caves to protectionist gravestone proposal in N.J.
  37. Nanny of the Week: Don’t mix beer and ice cream – because of the children
  38. Nanny of the Week: Is the minimum wage a nanny state policy?
  39. Nanny of the Week: Republican in NY backs cat declawing ban
  40. Nanny of the Week: NJ continues ban on self-serve gasoline, because sometimes it snows
  41. Nanny of the Week: Bernie Sanders is coming for your deodorant
  42. Nanny of the Week: Will babies confuse beer for their binkies?
  43. Nanny of the Week: Weeds will prevail in Maryland lawn care ban
  44. Nanny State of the Week: FDA bans trans-fats
  45. Nanny State of the Week: L.A. plans to jail unlicensed street vendors
  46. Nanny ST8 of the Week: Anti-government messages not allowed on license plates
  47. Nanny State of the Week: Helicopters, horses and New York City
  48. Nanny State of the Week: Lawsuit challenges Seattle trash snooping
  49. Nanny State of the Week: Town officials mandate mowing
  50. Nanny State of the Week: Florida county sends environmental specialist to investigate BBQ
  51. Nanny State: Despite menu nannies, Americans still fat!
  52. Nanny State of the Week: New York City’s ban on Styrofoam hurts businesses, consumers
  53. Nanny State of the Week: Colorado Springs may ban sitting in public places
  54. Nanny State of the Week: New York’s soda ban could be back — but for kids only
  55. Nanny State of the Week: D.C. flexing licensing muscles at personal trainers
  56. Nanny State of the Week: Hammock bans mean no hanging out on college campuses
  57. Nanny State of the Week: County can use same lawn treatments it banned residents from using
  58. Nanny State of the Week: Pols want to ban daily fantasy sports
  59. Nanny State of the Week: Bay Area bureaucrats ban fireplaces, wood stoves
  60. Nanny State of the Week: Halloween for the politically correct only
  61. Nanny State of the Week: Governments lag behind the public on orca captivity ban
  62. Nanny State of the Week: New York might accidentally ban makeup
  63. Nanny State of the Week: California could be first state to apply no-fly list to guns
  64. Nanny State of the Week: University may block social media app in futile effort to combat racism
  65. Nanny State of the Week: City fines residents for chipped paint, mismatched curtains
  66. Nanny State of the Week: No Christmas in Bethlehem this year
  67. Nanny State of the Week: Connecticut may outlaw smoking in many cars
  68. Nanny State of the Week: Town inspection checks whether you cleaned your toilet
  69. Nanny State of the Week: Minnesota men facing felony charges for selling beer
  70. Nanny State of the Week: City rewrites law to block theater from getting liquor license
  71. Nanny State of the Week: FDA goes beyond the pale, prepares to ban teen tanning
  72. Nanny State of the Week: Charleston’s storied history is off-limits to the unlicensed
  73. Nanny State of the Week: Feds marketing food stamps with bingo games, TV ads
  74. Nanny State of the Week: No sipping and selling for Alabama winemakers
  75. Nanny State of the Week: Jail time for texting while walking in New Jersey
  76. Nanny State of the Week: In time for Opening Day, cities ban chewing tobacco at ballparks
  77. Nanny State of the Week: Feds send LSD Ale on a long, strange trip
  78. Nanny State of the Week: Happy Tax Day! Now get ready to pay more to file
  79. Nanny State of the Week: A state license for breast-feeding advice?
  80. Nanny State of the Week: School officials bully kids with ban on skinny jeans
  81. Nanny State of the Week: FDA fries family’s potato chip business with new cooking oil mandates
  82. Nanny State of the Week: CFPB knows what is best for your personal finances
  83. Nanny State of the Week: City cracks down on crawfish boils after mayor’s aide complains
  84. Nanny State of the Week: Florida couple still fighting for their vegetable garden
  85. Nanny State of the Week: State lawmakers to decide where you can get an Uber in Boston
  86. Nanny State of the Week: Businesses can’t sell parking spaces to Braves fans
  87. Nanny State of the Week: OK, everybody’s foam toys, out of the pool
  88. Nanny State of the Week: Get out of the pool!
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    Eric Boehm is the national regulatory reporter for He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and Fox News. He was once featured in a BuzzFeed listicle. Follow him on Twitter @EricBoehm87 and reach him at [email protected]