The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has received its share of criticism. Some feel the program takes up too many taxpayer dollars. Others complain that too many people receive food stamps who don't deserve them. However, those in favor of SNAP feel the program is designed for those in need and, without it, many families would go hungry. Plus, some supporters believe the program stimulates the economy as well.
Benefits of Food Stamps
As of the date of publication, households paid as much as $1,300 a month in food costs. With SNAP, over 22 million households found some relief in supplementing this expense through a SNAP allotment. When assessing the level of benefit from the program, Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director of the Coalition of Human Needs, compares the changes of food insecurity before and after the receipt of SNAP benefits. Food insecurity resembles the number of families at risk of not being able to provide food to their families. Prior to receiving SNAP benefits, 37 percent of families were food insecure. After being on SNAP six months, this figure dropped to 24.1 percent, meaning that SNAP helped bridge the gap between food and the inability to purchase it. Given the numbers, supporters of SNAP feel the program makes food more readily available to millions in need.
Using SNAP benefits also seems to stimulate the economy. According to the Coalition Against Hunger, each $1 spent in food assistance stimulates the economy by adding $1.73 in economic activity. Supporters of SNAP argue that this increase in economic stimulus outweighs the billions of dollars spent on funding the SNAP program. An article in the Los Angeles Times points out that SNAP dollars are "spent quickly." Nobody holds on to this benefit because food is so desperately needed, adding to the argument that SNAP stimulates the economy.
The program also emphasizes the benefits of healthy eating. Although the Department of Agriculture admits that banning unhealthy foods such as soda and candy would take congressional approval and be too costly, the department has taken other positive steps to promote healthy eating for those receiving SNAP benefits. In 2014, the USDA, acting under The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, or FINI, granted over $31 million to large and small programs across the country that can help get healthy food to SNAP recipients. As a result, recipients can get subsidies to purchase produce at farmer's markets. Many view this as a giant step forward to promoting health eating.
Qualifying for SNAP benefits automatically makes you eligible for other benefit programs, such as free school lunches and assistance in paying utility bills.
The Downside of Food Stamps
Despite the benefits of SNAP, and the apparent need, there is a social stigma attached to receiving the aid. Recipients sometimes are labeled as lazy and having a poor work ethic. Some experts believe this shames many people into trying to hide their SNAP benefits or not applying to see if they qualify. Lindsay Gezinski, Assistant Professor, College of Social Work, University of Utah states that many public assistance recipients are embarrassed because they receive help. To help dispel the stigma, Gezinski, in an article published by the University of Utah, suggests that people stop viewing SNAP as a welfare program and start viewing it as a nutritional program.
Fraud appears to be another concern. Store owners have been charged with underground trafficking, where they accept bribes from SNAP recipients so the recipients can use their benefits to purchase forbidden items such as gas or liquor. Due to this underground trafficking, SNAP loses 1.3 percent of funding to fraud. While this might seem like a small number, it equates to a $3 billion annual loss. This is in addition to beneficiaries who have lied to get benefits. In total, given the trafficking, deceitful applicants and government errors, the program loses 4.07 percent of its funding yearly, resulting in a multi-billion dollar loss and, according to those opposed to food stamps, a waste of taxpayer money.
Another perceived problem with the program is the recipients' limited purchasing power. While SNAP beneficiaries appreciate the opportunity to buy eligible food, many would like to purchase other needed essentials such as diapers, cleaning supplies and hygiene items. Qualifying for the program already indicates a family's financial hardship. Not being able to purchase these essential items leaves a gap, some say, in how recipients are to provide their families with much needed non-food items. In addition, purchasing hot foods, foods designed for consumption on store premises and meals in restaurants only are approved in limited areas, making it hard for homeless and some disabled citizens to eat because they can't cook. Some shelters and soup kitchens accept SNAP benefits as well, but the USDA must first approve these facilities to take the payments. There's no guarantee that all shelters have signed up for this system. The USDA launched the Restaurant Meals Program, a program that allows restaurants to accept SNAP benefits as payment from recipients who cannot cook and store food, but unfortunately, only three states -- Arizona, Michigan and California -- participate.