The SNAP/Food Stamp Program is the largest nutrition assistance program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The goal of which is “to alleviate hunger and malnutrition … by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation,” as stated by the Food Stamp Act of 1977.
To all who are eligible, the program provides monthly benefits to low-income families that can be used to purchase food. Eligibility is mainly income based, with a couple of other factors, such as the minimum and maximum ages in the household, tossed in the mix. The monthly gross income limits are as follows:
- 130% of the federal poverty standard ($2,422 in 2011 for a family of 4)
- After deductions, 100% of the federal poverty standard ($1,863 in 2011 for a family of 4)
These limitations are meant to keep the amount of people using SNAP to a minimum, only allowing families that really need the assistance to participate.
Now that we know who is eligible for SNAP, the next logical question would is: how much are the benefits that families actually receive from the program? The average amount received is roughly $133 per month, which boils down to spending a whopping $4.45 per day.
As of the fiscal year of 2013, the USDA spent $82.5 billion on SNAP, with roughly 92% of that going directly towards benefits ($75.9 billion). These numbers have caused a great deal of contention.
Looking at SNAP from an extreme conservative point of view, one might say that the program spends an astronomical amount of money in order to combat a problem (starvation) that hasn’t been prevalent in the United States since Jamestown, that it supports unemployment by taking away incentive to get a job, and that it encourages obesity by offering varieties of junk food to be purchased using the benefits. For more on the conservative view of food stamps, see the following link: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/
I believe that there is a great deal more that goes in to the big picture of SNAP than what these common conservative beliefs would have us believe. Extreme cases of starvation in the United States are rare, however, the benefits provided by SNAP give families the opportunity to spend their own money on other necessities that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to purchase, such as school supplies, rent/mortgage, and heating, water, and electrical bills.
There have been numerous debates about whether or not it is acceptable to allow families to use their EBT cards (the card replacement for actual stamps) and benefits to purchase food products such as soda or junk food. The USDA holds that it is ethically wrong to limit their food choices as well as that it gives substantiality to the myth that food stamp users purchase unhealthy foods. In this case I agree with common conservative belief. Shopping and eating habits are difficult to break even in the best of circumstances. The best way to eliminate the problem is to eliminate the temptation. This must go hand-in-hand with other USDA education programs that are geared towards educating the general public of the best way to purchase healthier foods at a minimal price. For more on this visit the USDA website on food stamps: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
According to the USDA, the amount of people using food stamps has started to decrease as of 2013 and should hopefully continue to decrease until it reaches a stable, easily manageable size. Studies also show that 87% of people who receive food stamps are able to get back on their feet and have a stable job within a year of first receiving the benefits. While there are certain drawbacks to the SNAP program, I believe that it is a fundamental program to our society, boosting it and helping to restore it.