Food Stamps: Fighting Hunger Or Draining Resources?

Congress says food stamps are costing the country too much and debating big cuts. One in every seven Americans is using them to eat. What’s going on?

In this 2010 photo, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In this 2010 photo, a sign announcing the acceptance of electronic Benefit Transfer cards is seen at a farmers market in Roseville, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

It’s time for Farm Bill renewal in Congress, and the biggest item by far in the big bill is not about tractors or sugar beets or corn subsidies.  It’s about food stamps.

In total, $80 billion a year out of the $100 billion in Farm Bill spending goes to food stamps — to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, with 48 million American getting help with the grocery bill.

That number exploded during the Great Recession. It’s still high. Some in Congress want to whack it back. But for a lot of Americans, it’s what’s for dinner.

Up next On Point: The Farm Bill and food stamps.

– Tom Ashbrook


Mary Clare Jalonick, food and farm reporter for the Associated Press (@MCJalonick)

Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch. She’s also the director of The Grow Clinic at Boston Medical Center and a professor of child health and well-being at Boston University School of Medicine.

Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California at Davis. He’s also the former Assistant Secretary for Economics at the United States Department of Agriculture. He formerly served as a senior economist at the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the USDA.

From Tom’s Reading List

USDA: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — “SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.  The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits.”

Wall Street Journal: Use Of Food Stamps Swells As Economy Improves — “The financial crisis is over and the recession ended in 2009. But one of the federal government’s biggest social welfare programs, which expanded when the economy convulsed, isn’t shrinking back alongside the recovery. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the modern-day food-stamp benefit is known, has soared 70% since 2008 to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012. Congressional budget analysts think participation will rise again this year and dip only slightly in coming years.”

Associated Press: Senate Votes To Make Small Cut To Food Stamps — “The Senate voted Tuesday to keep a $400 million annual cut — or roughly a half of 1 percent — to the food stamp program as part of a major five-year farm bill. Food stamps now cost almost $80 billion annually and are used by 1 in 7 Americans. The House and Senate have differed sharply on how much the domestic food aid should be cut, with the House version of the farm bill proposing to cut five times more than the Senate bill and change eligibility rules for recipients.”

Chicago Tribune: Editorial: Worry About Food Stamp Growth, Not Junk Food — “Is there any human impulse stronger than the urge to tell others what not to eat? Fast food, red meat, white bread, trans fats, sugary cereals, processed foods, salty snacks, fried anything, refined grains, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, sodium, Snickers bars … We’re surrounded by unhealthy choices, and by people who would like to legislate them away.The latest victims of these well-intentioned busybodies are low-income Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, still known to most everyone as food stamps.”

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