Motivation for reform
Good point that programs of the sort Marino called for would be less necessary if we controlled use of the EBT cards more stringently on the front end - if they could only be used to purchase essential staples, it would be less important to monitor whether the beneficiary is buying more beans or rice. However, it's difficult to build the political motivation for reform without the kind of data Marino wanted to harvest. The public knows Food Stamp Nation is spending a lot of money, but to organize the level of popular energy necessary to support serious reform efforts, it would be useful if they knew exactly what the money was being spent on.
These are essentially credit cards, with you and I covering the bills. That means purchase data should be easy to capture and analyze. We might still have some interest in collecting purchase data. Actually - and I know this will be controversial to say - we have some interest in monitoring what food stamp recipients buy in addition to the use of the EBT card. Those cards don't cover 100 percent of the grocery purchase for all of the recipients. We'd still want to know if they're using food stamps for milk and bread, then plunking down cash for king crab.
Money is fungible. A food stamp recipient should be a person in dire poverty who can't afford to feed themselves and their families. I have no problem whatsoever with rendering vital assistance to people in those straits. I'd rather see it done by private charity, and I contribute to such charities whenever I can, but I suspect the kind-hearted American people will always insist on some kind of secular government food assistance program. If it's only going to people who really need it, and the program is administered in a way that aggressively eliminates fraud, it doesn't have to be unworkable or insanely expensive.
But what we do not want is abuse and lifetime dependency. That's what you get when the beneficiaries are using their government cheese to subsidize extravagant, and even destructive, lifestyle choices. In other words, We the People must reserve the right to control the lives of welfare dependents in a reasonable way. We should not be in the business of subsidizing someone's drug or booze habits by paying for his food. Nor should we be covering the staples to free up cash for the purchase of prime rib and lobster. Anyone who doesn't want the government to exercise such control over their lives is free to stay away from SNAP and earn his own keep.
I'm sure that will all sound unspeakably cruel and monstrous to the same people who have absolutely no problem with the government controlling everyone else's life in a million different ways.