Food Stamp Myths and Realities: Why Cuts Aren't Catastrophic

Jan 08, 2014

Conservatives and liberals agree that it is good to help those most in need to put food on their table. There is disagreement, however, with regard to how much the federal government should spend on food stamps and whether or not there is any fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. Does the steep rise in food stamp participation indicate a growing entitlement culture? Liberals and conservatives answer that question differently, too. At issue currently is a reported $9 billion dollar cut -- over the next decade -- to the federal food stamp program that cost roughly $80 billion in 2013 alone. The cuts would be part of a farm bill agreement.

Conservatives contend food stamps and the farm bill should be considered separately, so that they can be properly reformed and their costs reduced. Are liberals justified in being outraged against the negligible cuts lawmakers are proposing for the food stamp program?

Liberals argue that no cuts should be made to the food stamp program. Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says that there is no fraud, waste, or abuse in the program, and that most over payments are a result of honest mistakes on the part of recipients, eligibility workers, data entry clerks or computer programmers.

But even the United States Department of Agriculture has a page on their website dedicated to fighting food stamp fraud. The page states that fraud "weakens public confidence in the government program" and "hurts the ability of SNAP to serve over 47 million people who rely on the program to obtain healthy food." In February of 2013, they put out a press release indicating USDA "compliance analysts and investigators took action to permanently disqualify 1,387 stores for trafficking SNAP benefits."

That's not the same as zero fraud, and it's dishonest for liberals to suggest that taxpayers should have to accept such actions.

Stone also contends, two-thirds of SNAP recipients aren't expected to work because they are children, elderly, or disabled. Conservatives are not advocating no help be given to those truly in need, but liberal politicians and economists like Stone do a disservice to all Americans -- and do facilitate a culture of dependence, regardless of their denials -- by opposing work requirements for able-bodied adults as a prerequisite for receiving food stamp benefits. Indeed, most Americans agree this is a reasonable; a 2012 poll indicated 83 percent of Americans favor a "work requirement for welfare recipients." The Heritage Foundation explains:

Following the welfare reform model, food stamps should be transformed from an open-ended entitlement program that gives one-way handouts into a work activation program. Non-elderly, able-bodied adults who receive benefits should be required to work, prepare for work, or at least look for work as a condition of receiving aid.

Stone also states that the reason SNAP spending increased the way it did from December 2007 to June 2009 was because of the deep recession; the poor economy drove a larger number of individuals to participate in the food stamp program. But as the Heritage Foundation points out between fiscal year (FY) 2000 and FY 2007, prior to the recession, food stamp spending doubled. It doubled again between FY 2008 and FY 2012.

Some liberals are alarmed about a proposal being floated to cut $9 billion in food stamp funding over the next decade in the farm bill. Currently, food stamp beneficiaries' eligibility is tied to the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which assists mostly apartment dwellers with their utility costs, especially in winter months. Some states provide minimal LIHEAP payments -- sometimes as little as $1 -- to ensure recipients obtain higher food stamp payments. The Washington Post explains the proposed change:

The negotiated farm bill would tweak the program by requiring states to pay at least $20 in heating assistance to eligible households. The change would reduce, but not eliminate, SNAP payments based on heat-and-eat eligibility and save nearly $9 billion, aides said.

Some liberal members of Congress have expressed tentative support for the compromise, like Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Others, like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) have opposed it. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) said, "I don't think we should be focused on the cuts; I think we should be focused on the efficiencies of the program and who it's genuinely helping." That's a good point. As the Heritage Foundation explains:

Food stamps should be reformed to ensure that the program is serving those it is intended to serve. It should also be reformed to promote self-sufficiency through work, thus helping those who are able by encouraging self-sufficiency.


Proposed Cuts Would Barely Dent Massive Growth of Food Stamps