On social media, I see a lot of commentary about the SNAP program and its recipients. Most of these are assumptions that have no basis in truth. Here are a few:
- Food stamp recipients are lazy and don’t want to work.
- Food stamp recipients are mostly drug addicts.
- Food stamp recipients eat “high on the hog” with a lot of luxury and snack food items.
- Food stamp recipients stay on food stamps because it is easy to do so.
- Many food stamp recipients sell their food stamps to buy drugs and/or alcohol.
None of these statements are based on statistical truth. Here are some statistical truths.
- Most SNAP recipients have at least one household member working.
- States that have instituted mandatory drug tests for SNAP applicants have found less than 1% that test positive for drug use.
- Few SNAP recipients actually “sell” their benefits because they actually need them to eat. In addition, those who purchase their benefits are also in violation of the law and at risk of prosecution and conviction. By focusing on the criminals that buy SNAP benefits, there would be fewer willing to purchase these benefits illegally and risk prosecution.
- SNAP benefits allot less than $2 per meal per person, far from a budget with a lot of luxury items.
- SNAP recipients are motivated to increase their income by the same poverty that has caused them to rely on SNAP for assistance with their food purchases. In addition, it is time consuming to get paperwork together and apply for the program every six months.
- The majority of SNAP households contain one or more children, disabled, and/or elderly, all of which are vulnerable citizens who are likely to have special dietary needs that are actually more expensive than a standard American diet, yet they are expected to manage on less than $6 per day per person for their food.
- SNAP recipients are below the poverty level. Those who are below that line are at higher risk for obesity and other health problems because poverty diets tend to be higher in inexpensive carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, rice) and low in fresh vegetables, fruit, and proteins. This results in higher medical costs and shorter life expectancy. This ultimately results in individuals that contribute less to taxes and Social Security, as their anticipated working years are reduced in accordance with their physical health.
Yet we’ve seen the SNAP program targeted repeatedly by politicians who feel that it is a handout without any benefits to the general tax paying public, further aggravated by ill informed people posting increasingly negative commentary about the recipients of the program. All of these people are being short sighted in their view of the SNAP program and here are some reasons why.
- In communities that are economically challenged, the money spent at the grocery stores via the SNAP program can mean the difference in whether or not a grocery store can show a profit that month. It also influences the number of employees that will be hired or retained at the grocery store in a given period of time in a very direct manner.
- Children who do not receive an adequate diet are not just going to pay less attention at school because of hunger, but it can actually influence the development of their brains as well as their personalities and character. Can this country really afford to see a reduction in intelligence of the masses? Can we really afford to see an increase in nutrition based illnesses like those found in third world countries?
- People suffering from malnutrition or long term hunger begin to feel a sense of hopelessness. This hopelessness can cause a number of social ills, ranging from violent crime to rioting, without regard for their own personal safety. If dying means you won’t go to bed hungry again, there is less inhibition against violence.
- Without food, more people will be in need of services such as food banks and soup kitchens. Nobody wants these facilities in their neighborhoods either. Nobody wants to even see the lines waiting to get into either one. Can we afford an increased need for them?
- Certain corporations and jobs do not pay enough for a family to eat without assistance from the SNAP program. If these workers cannot get SNAP assistance, will they continue working for the low wages? Will those corporations and businesses be able to continue to operate if they cannot hire workers at below-poverty wages or as part time workers without benefits? Will this cause an increase in prices to the general public as they pass on the costs of higher priced labor or will they simply close their doors, terminating employment for their workers in that location?
- With students suffering from chronic hunger and/or malnutrition, how will schools continue to operate? These students require more services and yet are unlikely to obtain higher scores on standardized tests, resulting in federal penalties to the schools themselves. At the same time, students are more likely to exhibit anti-social and/or violent behavior as a result of the nutritional deficiency, further degrading both testing results and classroom performance, as well as increasing costs for services such as truancy officers, disciplinary officers, and security details. More students are also likely to have chronic absenteeism, due to illnesses and apathy.
- Hunger and economics are likely reasons for more children to be abused, abandoned, given up for adoption or placed in long term foster care, further straining social services. Statistically, these children suffer long term from these situations, often affecting their lives as adults as well and spiraling into repeating the same actions in their own lives. This can result in costs to society for multiple generations, not just a decade or two.
- Chronic hunger in families can often result in domestic strife, including domestic violence and divorces. These also cost society for decades, as single parent families are more vulnerable in terms of economic security. Social services and law enforcement will also feel the strain, as they are called into action to deal with the aftermath of these situations.
Shall I go on? Chronic hunger is a real problem, as is malnutrition. Neither one is something that is immediately obvious to the untrained eye as we go about our daily lives. It doesn’t cause spots or a limp or the use of a wheelchair. It affects each and everyone of us, no matter how luxurious our own dinner was, as we go about our daily routines. It can show up as errors as we buy something or as anti-social behaviors in our children’s schools. It can be shoplifting at your local stores or a burglary at your home while you are at work. It can be a child’s grief at hearing that their schoolmate was killed in a murder-suicide.
It ripples outward. When faced with eating or paying bills such as rent or utilities, which one is more likely to happen? With frequent delinquencies, costs for everyone will increase as companies try to balance their bottom line. Those increased costs will cause more prices to rise, continuing to ripple further and further.
Nutrition and food should be readily available to all citizens in this country, not just the elite. In addition to not cutting the program any further, it should be expanded to include commodity distribution to ensure that families do obtain sufficient food for good nutrition, as well as to ensure that farmers prices are maintained at an adequate level for their own economic success. These commodities have been distributed in the past, and would include canned meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, corn syrup, and butter, as well as cheese, nonfat dry milk, flour, and cornmeal. All of these products were (and should be) clearly marked as commodities that are not for sale or trade. Distribution of these commodity products to SNAP recipients on a regular basis would help families stretch their food budget for better nutrition, as well as provide regular employment for those working in canneries and distribution centers, all of which would continue to ripple outward for a better and more stable economy.
Wouldn’t it be great if SNAP recipients were also shown preference in being hired for those canneries and distribution centers? They would then no longer need to receive those benefits and would be tax paying citizens themselves!
In the meantime, write to your representatives and senators in Washington and your state legislature. Voice your opinion. Oh, and donate to your local food bank and soup kitchens. They are going to be struggling to meet demand a lot sooner than Washington is going to react.
Of course, digging out the depression recipes might be a good idea too, since it looks like we’re all in for the long haul, no matter how often Washington tells us that things are getting better and there is no inflation!