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In The Loop
Posted at 02:00 PM ET, 07/12/2012

USDA uses soap opera to educate on food stamps


Spanish-language tele-novelas typically feature evil twins, star-crossed lovers or switched babies. But a radio novela produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a more prosaic plot--a woman’s choice to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), or food stamps.

Not to say there’s no drama in the educational series pitched to the Spanish-language community, which is titled “Hope Park.” Each short “episode” ends with a cliffhanger, like “Will Ramón convince Diana how easy it is to apply for SNAP? Don’t miss the next episode...”

The USDA is using the soap-opera-style format to promote the availability of food stamps, according to a report from the Daily Caller. Its segments center on a mother who wants to lose weight and to serve healthier food to her daughter.

Over the 10-episode “season,” the woman overcomes misinformation and doubts about applying for assistance and finally enrolls.

But the plot is thickening. Conservative critics are targeting the novela, which was produced in 2008 but is still used, and they’re not talking about the acting or pacing. The right-leaning Caller griped that the outreach effort is targeting non-citizens along with Spanish-speaking citizens. The USDA noted that food stamps are not available to those in the country illegally. Some non-citizens, such as --are eligible for the benefit, the agency said..

A staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sent reporters a link to the Caller story, flagging a scene in one of the episodes in which a character is convinced to apply for food stamps even though she argues that “I don’t need anyone’s help. My husband earns enough to take care of us.”

Sessions, the staffer said, has questioned whether food stamps are being pushed not only to the needy “but to individuals whose existing resources and support network made various welfare benefits unnecessary.”

A USDA spokeswoman tells the Loop that Congress mandates “public education about the benefits of SNAP and how to apply to help reduce hunger in America.” And it’s probably way easier to engage people with a soapy drama than with a dull PSA.

Who needs an evil twin when there’s intrigue like this?

By  |  02:00 PM ET, 07/12/2012

 
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