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Lobster Boy Looms Large In Food Stamp Debate

Before Fox News turned its cameras on him, Jason Greenslate was an anonymous Southern California beach bum, hanging with his surfer pals, playing in a demonstrably awful band and, in his words, "livin' the ratt life."

He doesn't work and gets $200 a month in food stamp assistance that he sometimes uses to buy lobster.

Which he did, for Fox's cameras, unapologetically.

"It's free food," said Greenslate, a dead ringer for the infamous slacker Jeff Spicoli in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "It's awesome."

And so was born, in the conservative media crucible, the GOP's new face of American indolence.

For House Republicans, who this week will try for the second time in three months to cut farm bill funding for the federal nutrition program, it's a hard anecdote to resist.

After all, a subsequent Fox poll found that 91 percent of respondents said they have a problem with "an unemployed musician receiving taxpayer-funded aid because he doesn't want to take a regular job to pay the bills."

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have cited Greenslate — or rather "young surfers who aren't working but cash their food stamps in for lobster" — in their push to cut $39 billion over the next 10 years from the nation's nearly $80 billion annual program.

Conservative websites have also had a field day with Greenslate's shiftless life motto of "cute chicks and doin' my thing," which intensifies Republican fears of a burgeoning dependency culture under President Obama and a social safety net that encourages able-bodied freeloaders to game the system.

Greenslate's benefit amounts to about $2.19 per meal, a calculation based on three meals a day.

As an able-bodied person under age 50, and with no apparent dependents, the San Diego surfer-musician would qualify among a group of Americans who became eligible for food stamps as part of the 2009 stimulus package.

Those who were newly qualified under the stimulus because of low income or unemployment now make up about 10 percent of the 48 million food stamp recipients. (The program is now known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.)

Nearly 90 percent of recipients have a dependent, whether a child, a senior citizen or someone with a disability.

When the House GOP helped defeat the $940 billion farm bill in June — or the "food stamp and farm bill," as some called it — the conservative Heritage Foundation characterized it as a "victory for taxpayers and a reaffirmation of fiscal responsibility."

Lobster, it should be noted, isn't the only pricey shellfish driving the debate about food stamp freeloading.

Back in June, before Greenslate was elevated as the embodiment of "The Great Food Stamp Binge," Texas Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert shared a similar story on the House floor: the tale of a frustrated constituent who watched a fellow shopper use food stamps to buy king crab legs.

Shellfish. It's the new filet mignon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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