Who Would Ever Use Food Stamps?

Funding for food stamps (the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) was increased a few years ago as part of the federal stimulus package. Unlike temporary tax cuts and business subsidies, which tend to last forever, the temporary increase in SNAP funding ended November 1st. 

The average monthly benefit per household two years ago was $293. Now it will be about $278, down 5%.There is an article here with more information, including an interactive map that allows you to see the numbers for your state. In Arizona, for example, 1.1 million people are covered by SNAP, including 538,000 children. 

It’s easy to demonize people you don’t know. Who are these slackers and scam artists who use food stamps anyway?

Sometimes they’re people you know or even people just like you. One of them writes:

People tend to think of food stamp recipients as poor, unfortunate, lazy, things along those lines. Be aware that recipients are also people trying to better themselves, simply needing some assistance to do so. Case in point: There was a time in the past when I was studying towards a graduate degree on a scholarship. The scholarship wasn’t nearly enough to live on. I did odd jobs for faculty to earn some money to help with my cash flow situation, but I also qualified for food stamps. With my level of income, I was eligible to be subsidized at 50%. That is, I could buy $1 of food stamps for 50 cents, up to a certain total amount of stamps every week, essentially doubling the amount of food I could buy and allowing me to devote more time studying towards a degree.

At the food stamp office, there were some other younger folks like myself, but most people were clearly much more desperate: people weak and elderly, women tending to babies and young children, disabled people. Standing on line waiting your turn, you could hear the transactions at the counter ahead of you, and could hear that many of these people were subsidized at 100%. I can guarantee you it has never occurred to me they should not have received this assistance. Today, to hear people say that citizens in need should be denied this kind of support, which simply enables them to buy enough food, well, I can’t decide if it makes me sad, angry, disgusted, depressed or all of those things.

It’s all of those things.

11 thoughts on “Who Would Ever Use Food Stamps?

  1. My family were struggling with hard times. My wife worked a full-time job while I was struggling and working through employment services. Money was scarce and we applied for food stamps to get by. We were on it for about two years until this past June when I was finally hired full-time at my current job. We are off food stamps now and enjoy the independence once again. This is how food stamps were meant to be used for. Not a program designed to support a family for life and abuse the system. I believe that here in Pennsylvania they need to implement the Welfare to work program where individuals on Welfare are required to make mandatory visits to the Unemployment office to learn job search skills and seek gainful employment. The program also provided rides to and from job interviews and resume building.
    This nation needs programs like this to get out of its funk that it is in.

    • It’s not the case that a large percentage of people receiving food stamps are lazy and want to be helped forever. Most of the people covered by the program are either children, the old or the disabled. If people who can work could find work that paid a decent wage, they wouldn’t need or want help from the government. But as stories like this show, even people who have jobs are being told to apply for food stamps. For example:

      • I know a large amount of people are not lazy. But unfortunately those who abuse the system and make Welfare their permanent income are the one’s giving it a bad name and are making it harder for those truly needing help to get it. In my area the offices are full to the max everyday with people applying for aid. Many of them are young mothers who had children at a very young age and needing help because they can’t get child support or child support is ordered and the father disappeared. I have relatives on disability that need Welfare and understand that. I don’t understand how society has become so needy and less independent.

        • And I know that there will always be people who take advantage of the system. The trick is to make it so that people who need help get it, while trying to weed out the people who don’t. But if you make it too hard to get help or the help is too little, the needy suffer. You’re right that we as a society have become less able to take care of ourselves. That seems to be the way the modern world is, not just in this country, but in lots of other places. I don’t know what to do about that, but we don’t want to go back to the era of poor houses, child labor, sweat shops, mining disasters — the way things were in the 19th century.

          • I know we can’t go back to early 20th Century America’s version of social services where the rich enjoy and the poor suffer. But the welfare system needs to be overseen by an agency dedicated in regulating fraud and abuse within they system. In Pa there was a series on WHLT 22 out of Harrisburg in which it talked about how the Welfare system in our state is broken and those who work in it do not care who they give or don’t give benefits to. It spoke about fraud in Pa and the agency’s inabilities to catch it.
            My point is the system really is broke and the Governments answer to helping Lower Class America is to throw money and social services at them to keep them happy and it works.
            The 47 million plus Americans receiving Welfare seems to be growing. At least a quarter of them are using the system. These people are the ones that make it hard for all of us.

            • I don’t doubt that there are some government programs that are badly run, waste money and deserve to be exposed. The thing is, however, I don’t think it’s the people who are struggling who are giving the rest of us a hard time, even if some of them take advantage of the system. I think it’s some of the politicians and the corporations and the financial industry that are doing the real damage. We should consider the money we waste on “defense”, and the national security state (the NSA, etc.), and our crazy health insurance system, and the “war on drugs” and putting so many people in prison (a relatively new way for corporations to soak the taxpayers).

              As for the “47 million plus” number on welfare: that apparently refers to the people who are getting some kind of federal government assistance, aside from Social Security and Medicare. The number actually on welfare (what used to be Aid for Families with Dependent Children) is actually about 4.5 million. The number getting food stamp assistance is about 40 million, many of whom have jobs or are too old to work. There are about 50 million or so people on Medicaid and many of them have jobs too. Then there are all the people who are on Social Security of one kind or another, plus Medicare, which are forms of “welfare”, since most people get more out of the system than they put in.

              The fact is that there are a lot of people in this country who don’t have or make a lot of money and the government tries to help them out by taxing the rest of us (and of course people who don’t pay federal income tax do pay sales taxes and have money withheld for FICA, etc.) Unless we can find a way to raise people’s incomes and add more jobs to the economy, that’s just how it’s going to be.

              I did a quick search for the numbers above and found this in USA Today:


              Here’s another set of numbers:


              And a blog post I found that criticizes the “50 million people on Welfare” number:


              Then there was an article in Forbes that complained about the fact that people receiving “welfare” sometimes receive more money than people with minimum wage jobs. The author thinks this means we should lower welfare payments. I think we should raise the minimum wage.

            • A story this morning from Reuters:

              “…pay errors are only a small part of the sums that annually disappear into the vast bureaucracy that manages more than half of all annual government outlays approved by Congress. The Defense Department’s 2012 budget totaled $565.8 billion, more than the annual defense budgets of the 10 next largest military spenders combined, including Russia and China. How much of that money is spent as intended is impossible to determine.

              In its investigation, Reuters has found that the Pentagon is largely incapable of keeping track of its vast stores of weapons, ammunition and other supplies; thus it continues to spend money on new supplies it doesn’t need and on storing others long out of date. It has amassed a backlog of more than half a trillion dollars in unaudited contracts with outside vendors; how much of that money paid for actual goods and services delivered isn’t known. And it repeatedly falls prey to fraud and theft that can go undiscovered for years, often eventually detected by external law enforcement agencies.”


              • Being an ex Marine I have seen on my level the amount of waste the Department of Defence throws away every day. Just like the rest of the Government the Department of Defence’s budget seems like it was made by a bunch of grade schoolers.

                • By the way, I gather that we’re on different sides of the political fence, but it’s been good to have a civil discussion with you on this kind of topic. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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