Millions of Americans, many of which are children, are not accessing the nutrition benefits for which they are eligible, including getting assistance through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) formerly known as Food Stamps.
It is important that that we counter myths about SNAP among those who think they are not eligible and those who would discourage others from enrolling in a program that is not only vital for families but also for local and state economic growth.
What is SNAP?
It’s Nutrition Assistance
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal nutrition program that provides much-needed nutrition support to millions of low-income Americans. SNAP serves as a first line of defense against hunger. Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children.
It’s an Economic Boost
Not only does SNAP help individuals and families when money’s tight, but your state and local community also benefit. The average SNAP benefit per person in Texas is about $125 per month (fiscal year 2011 data), which is spent in local grocery stores. Paying for SNAP takes less than 1 cent of every federal budget dollar. On the other hand, every $5 of SNAP generates almost double the amount in local economic activity.
It’s Relevant to McLennan County
There are over 60,000 McLennan County residents who are eligible for SNAP benefits. 38,145 McLennan County residents actually receive SNAP benefits.
According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), the average monthly benefit per person in Texas for 2011 was $125.57. Consequently, McLennan County generates $4,789,867 per month in local economic activity due to SNAP. That’s $57,478,411 annually.
Common Myths about SNAP
MYTH: SNAP is a welfare program.
TRUTH: SNAP is a nutrition assistance program designed to help individuals and families buy nutritious food when money’s tight.
MYTH: Some people receive an exorbitant amount of SNAP benefits.
TRUTH: The average SNAP benefit per person in Texas is about $125 per month (fiscal year 2011 data).
MYTH: SNAP is not temporary assistance.
TRUTH: Half of all SNAP participants leave the program within 10 months of receiving their benefits.
MYTH: People who get SNAP don’t work.
TRUTH: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program, 30% of households enrolled in SNAP do work. Of all SNAP households in the United States, 49% include children, 16% include seniors and 20% include someone disabled. All together, 76% of SNAP households contain a child, a senior or a disabled person.
MYTH: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.
TRUTH: Nationwide, the SNAP fraud rate is at a historic low of less than 1 percent of all cases. The introduction of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards has dramatically reduced consumer fraud. According to the USDA, the small amount of fraud that continues is usually on the part of retailers NOT consumers.
MYTH: SNAP benefits go to undocumented immigrants.
TRUTH: Undocumented immigrants have never been eligible for SNAP. Documented immigrants can only get food stamps if they’ve lived in the U.S. for at least five years (with exceptions for refugees, asylees and children). In fact, immigrants are far less likely to apply for food stamps because they worry about jeopardizing their immigration status and because the application process is especially daunting for non-English speakers.
MYTH: Hunger isn’t a problem in my community.
TRUTH: More than 45,000 McLennan County residents live below the federal poverty guideline. 38,000 residents get SNAP. In 2010, nearly 20,000 of those SNAP recipients were children.
MYTH: SNAP is a drain on taxpayers.The ballooning enrollment and budget for SNAP is costing tax payers too much money and is impeding the government’s ability to pay for other important federal programs.
TRUTH: SNAP benefits are determined on an entitlement basis, which means that anyone who meets SNAP income qualifications can receive assistance. In this way, SNAP responds quickly to support low-income families during times of need. Consequently, enrollment expands during an economic recession and subsides during times of prosperity. SNAP enrollment has increased since 2007 in response to the current economic recession, as the number of low-income households who qualify for the program has increased. Enrollment will decrease as the economy improves.
SNAP provides a critical safety net for individuals, families and our economy as a whole. In fiscal year 2011, the federal government spent about $78 billion on SNAP, which represents approximately 2.11 percent of the $3.7 trillion total budget for the U.S. Furthermore, each dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.84 in economic activity, leading to increased productivity for our nation. In this way, SNAP helps maintain a demand for food and agricultural products, as well as jobs in those sectors, during a lagging economy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP is one of the most cost-effective of all available spending and tax options for boosting growth and jobs during an economic recession.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, every $5 in SNAP benefits generates $9 in economic activity. SNAP not only helps low-income people buy groceries, it frees up cash for other expenses, such as medical care, clothing, home repairs and childcare. That benefits local businesses and their employees, which boosts the economy as a whole.
MYTH: SNAP benefits are issued on a debit card, which can be used to purchase anything including paying for travel or vehicle expenses.
TRUTH: Food stamps are distributed through an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card which, although similar in appearance to a debit card, restricts which items can be purchased with SNAP benefits.
The following categories are strictly prohibited: beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco, and any nonfood items, (e.g. pet foods, soaps, paper products, and household supplies), vitamins and medicines, and prepared hot foods.
The EBT card has been programmed to differentiate between eligible and in-eligible items during checkout at grocery stores. Customers pay for eligible food items with their SNAP benefits. Any in-eligible items are not covered by SNAP and customers must paying for those items not covered by SNAP with a different method of payment. There can be misperceptions among observers in grocery and other types of stores who may misinterpret nonfood purchases as a misuse of SNAP benefits.
Sources: USDA Food and Nutrition Services, Share Our Strength, Kids Count Data, Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Texas Hunger Initiative, and SNAPtoHealth.org.