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Dependency Uber Alles

He simply increased the annual LIHEAP checks sent to affected families from $1 to $20.

Presto: 300,000 families will continue receiving excessive SNAP benefits. New York will spend $6 million (300,000 times $20) to ensure that an estimated $457 million per year in benefits continues to be overpaid.

Cuomo's maneuver has proven too much for other governors to resist. Connecticut Democrat Dannel Malloy quickly followed suit, at an annual taxpayer cost of $67 million. Even alleged Republican Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has sold out, at a cost of $300 million. Thus, barring new legislation or President Obama using his authoritarian instincts to actually save money (good luck with that), about half of the $8.6 billion Congress allegedly claimed it would save over five years has already evaporated. Other states will surely follow suit.

The social welfare community is naturally pleased as punch, because it believes that SNAP benefit levels are too low. They seldom if ever make serious arguments about benefit levels or how the calculation formulas should be changed in front of Congress, which I take as an indication that they don't have a case.

Most local press accounts clearly favor the governors' moves. National press coverage has been sparse, perhaps because Politico, which at least described Cuomo as having "gamed" the law, is often the go-to place where stories worthy of wide national attention get buried. (Other national outlets seem to say, "Well, Politico already covered it, so we don't have to.")

On Friday, Republicans in Congress signaled their intention to try to, in House Speaker John Boehner's words, "stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing."

If President Obama or any Democrat in Washington really objects to what Cuomo and his co-conspirators have done, I haven't heard about it. Their silence makes me wonder if they let the farm bill become law because they knew that "creative" governors would quickly get around it. If so, the "stupid party" once again got outsmarted.

SNAP's goal should be to keep people with inadequate financial resources from inadequate nutrition. Unfortunately, the real objective for far too long has been to convert the program into an automatic entitlement any time one suffers even a small break or a temporary steep reduction in their income.

Thirty-eight states have eliminated the program's old "asset test," which kept households with over $2,500 in the bank from receiving benefits (oh, the inhumanity!). Over 30 states have also increased the program's income eligibility threshold from the long-established 130 percent of the federal poverty level to as high as 200 percent. This has enabled some normally high-earning and well-off households with tens of thousands of dollars in liquid assets whose breadwinners are temporarily unemployed to qualify.

This whole episode demonstrates how difficult if not impossible it will be to get federal spending, 70 percent of which consists of payments to individuals, under control before national insolvency "solves" the problem in a very painful way.