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The Truth About Food Stamps
The Food Stamp Program (FSP) is our nation’s first defense against hunger. Like many programs for the poor, it comes under much scrutiny, especially when it seems that recipients are not using their benefits wisely. These are our tax dollars, people argue; we don’t this money wasted. The FSP, however, is very efficient and effective program, and it is a vital safety net for the poorest people in this country. Many myths about this program persist, though, so let’s set the record straight.
Participating households enjoy greater food and protein availability than eligible households who do not participate. Some studies show that participating households consume more vitamins and minerals, but the evidence for this is weaker (1).
It would be nice to think that people who receive food stamps purchase only healthy, wholesome foods. However, one of the benefits of this program is that it allows participants to make their own decisions about food. This independence is important for maintaining autonomy and dignity for poor families. Also, healthy foods like fruits and vegetables cost more than processed goods that are often high in sugar and fat. With the average monthly food stamp benefit hovering around $1 per meal for each person in the household, buying healthy food is challenging.
Half of all FSP participants are children. Eight percent are
elderly. Around 16% of households who receive food stamps have at least one
member who is disabled. Nearly all households who participate in the program
live below the poverty line. Two out of five of these households earn incomes
that reach less than half of the
poverty line. The FSP average participant has countable resources (including
bank accounts and some non-excludable vehicles) totaling $137. Only
What all these statistics mean is
that food stamps are reaching the poorest people in our country, and those who
are most vulnerable to food insecurity. With low incomes and few resources to
fall back on, these households depend on food stamps to ensure that they can
feed their families.
FSP benefits can only be used for food purchases. Benefits can not be used for cigarettes, alcohol, or pet foods. Te electronic benefit card, which has replaced the old paper stamps, creates an electronic record and reduced improper use of FSP benefits.
The FSP is more efficient than ever. Of households receiving food stamp benefits, 98% are eligible. And of all the errors reported in the FSP, two-thirds are the result of caseworker errors, not participant misinformation. The overwhelming majority of overpayments went to very poor households, and did not even push these families over the poverty line.
The Food Stamp Program ensures that the poorest households in our country can buy food. The program continues to improve in efficiency, and it is our hope that we use the 2007 Farm Bill as an opportunity to strengthen and expand this important safety net. We are one of the richest nations in the world, and we can certainly afford to help our poorest citizens buy the food they need.
1. Fox, Mary K., William Hamilton, and Biing-Hwan Lin. ""Effects of Food Assistance and Nutrition Programs on Nutrition and Health: Executive Summary of the Literature Review, Volume 4". Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report, No. (FANRR 1904). December 2004
2. "Characteristics of Food Stamp Households, Fiscal Year 2005." Food and Nutrtion Services, Office of Analysis, Nutrition and Evaluation. Sept. 2006
3. "GAO Finds Food Stamp Program Improving." http://harkin.senate.gov/news.cfm?id=237281
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