Let ‘Em Drive Cars

President Clinton (remember him?) today announced a proposed food-stamp regulation aimed at increasing automobile ownership among poor people. Currently, people who own cars with a market value above $4,650 are ineligible for food stamps. This is fairly barbaric. As Clinton pointed out, “It’s hard to find a reliable car for under $4,650.” And besides, many poor people who “own” cars above that price don’t really own them at all; they’re buying them on time. Automobile ownership tends to be a prerequisite for employment because of what William Julius Wilson calls the “spatial mismatch” between where poor folks live and where jobs can be found.

Under the proposed regulation, which presumably will become law after the usual “comment period,” the feds will forget about the $4,650 cutoff if the family in question has less than $1,000 in equity sunk into the car (equity being market value minus the bank loan). Clinton is also asking Congress to pass legislation that would allow the states to ignore the $4,650 cutoff altogether.

Chatterbox’s question is: Will environmental groups, which tend to care far more about pollution than they do about poor people, have conniptions over this? Twenty years ago, when liberals bemoaned America’s “love affair with the automobile,” they would have been marching in the streets over such a car-friendly regulation. Today, the price of oil has risen above $30 a barrel, but Chatterbox predicts the greens still won’t kick up a fuss. Which shows that America has made some progress.