Waste Not. Want Not. SNAP Benefits.
In November 2008, it was 30 million. Almost four years later in September 2012, it has increased to 46.6 million. Am I talking about the increase in foreclosures…. Am I talking about the number of customers cancelling their Netflix account or the number of sales of Peyton Manning jerseys? No, I’m talking about the number of people in America who are recipients of food stamps. Food stamps these days aren’t called food stamps, but are labeled as SNAP benefits. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and is directed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Newt Gingrich called Obama our food stamp president and the Wall Street Journal called the U.S. the food stamp nation. If food stamps, I mean, SNAP benefits have become the new normal, I wanted to learn more about this entitlement. Forty-six million people on a government program, what could go wrong?
First, in the analog days, food stamps used to be an actual paper coupon, but now they are dispensed in the form of a debit card called EBT, Electronic Benefit Transfer. For once, this government program is actually telling it like it is; basically transferring taxpayer’s money to SNAP recipients with the swipe of a card. On the USDA website it says,
“A major advantage of this method is that the use of food coupons is not conspicuous. Most other people in line will not notice that the person checking out is paying with food coupons. We have found that SNAP households like this feature because it reduces the stigma many people feel in using SNAP benefits.”
SNAP stigma? Do stigmas for government entitlements exist anymore? Hardly, they’ve done such a good job reducing the stigma of SNAP that more people than ever before are receiving government food benefits. To put a percentage on it, SNAP recipients are now 15% of America’s population.
How did the numbers get so high? In 2009, the Obama administration expanded eligibility and increased the monthly allotment for the SNAP program through the stimulus package also known as, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The intended result is having more people dependent on a government program than ever before in the history of food stamps.
How else did the numbers get so high? Maybe you didn’t receive your invitation yet, but the new festive occasions are food stamp parties to increase food stamp participation. Think of it like a membership drive to sign up for welfare. The USDA has spent a couple million marketing SNAP to the elderly through these events.
It has become normalized and it seems that if you’re not taking advantage of this program and you’re on the margin of qualifying, you’re making a mistake by not making SNAP work in your favor. The message implied is don’t even try persevering to become self-sufficient as your benefits will get cut off if you earn too much money. Unfortunately, success and independence remains out of reach as the cycle of dependence is fed by the public assistance safety net.
WHERE EBT IS ACCEPTED
Once you’ve got your EBT card in hand, where can you use your SNAP dollars? SNAP is a federal program, but it is meted out on the state level. The USDA website has a SNAP locator function that will find every store near you that accepts EBT cards. To name a few in Colorado: Safeway, King Soopers, Family Dollar, Denver Drug and Liquor, Schwan’s food service, Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Taste of India Grocery, and also Papa Murphy’s Pizza. Papa Murphy’s qualifies to receive EBT cards because they only prepare the pizza for you to take home to bake.
The latest purchasing trend for SNAP recipients is farmer’s markets. The USDA just gave states a $4 million grant to outfit some farmer’s markets with the technology to accept EBT cards.
On the other end of the nutrition spectrum, there is a debate about whether to push for SNAP benefits to be accepted at fast food eateries. Four states already allow EBT cards to be used at restaurants: California, Michigan, Arizona, and Florida. There is a lot of money to be made at these private eating establishments with the aid of government taxpayers footing the bill.
There there’s the fraud. The PIN number of the EBT cardholder becomes a prized piece of information and can be sold at a price, have all the funds spent, only to have a replacement card issued with all the original funds still on the card. In an effort to reform their entitlement machine in Michigan, 30,000 college students had their EBT cards revoked and were kicked out of the SNAP program by closing an education loophole.
In Colorado, EBT cards are being used at liquor stores, casinos, and strip clubs. This is hardly a fair trade-off for separating taxpayers from their money. In Oregon, you can use your Oregon Trail EBT card to purchase Starbucks drinks, as long as the Starbucks is inside a grocery store.
SNAP benefits come at a cost. There is no free lunch or dinner. What is transparent is the number of people who are recipients of this public assistance. What is unseen and forgotten at this moment in food stamp growth is the taxpayer funding of this welfare. SNAP benefits are supposed to be temporary assistance to help struggling people, but with unprecedented growth in the number of recipients, it seems that some are now finding it a way of life.