Two views on food stamps

Moderated by Rick Badie

More than one in seven Americans is on food stamps. The government wants more to join the safety net. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has wrapped up a campaign targeted at the elderly, working poor, unemployed and Hispanics. More than one in four who are eligible do not participate because, some say, they don’t understand requirements. Today, a guest writer says government should save money, not recruit participants. But a food bank executive says no child should go hungry.

Give a hand up, not a handout

By Debbie Dooley

It is very disconcerting to see the Obama administration marketing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in recent television ads. The ads attempt to glamorize food stamps and encourage people to apply for assistance.

In addition, states are paid “bonuses” for getting new people enrolled in the food stamp program.

This is creating the wrong mindset.

Food stamps, or any other type of federal welfare assistance program, should only be temporary, but include exceptions for the elderly and disabled.

Roughly 50 percent of food stamp participants have been on the program for 8.5 years or longer.

Success in the food stamp program should be measured in how many people are able to leave the program, not in the number of new participants.

We should be giving people a hand up, not a handout. More effort needs to be focused on providing the necessary training so food stamp participants become self-reliant and independent and are able to proudly get off assistance.

SNAP is one of more than 70 federal welfare programs, second only to Medicaid in spending, and has an estimated $800 billion-plus cost over the next 10 years.

The food stamp program consumes almost 80 percent of the farm bill compared to 2003, when it consumed 64 percent. The food stamp program went from 28 million participants four years ago to almost 46 million today.

Our nation is borrowing 40 cents on every dollar we spend. We cannot keep up the same pace of spending. Entitlements such as food stamps are bankrupting our country. The SNAP program needs to be reformed and cuts need to be made to continue to sustain the program for people who are truly needy.

Moreover, we hear reports of food stamp fraud too frequently in the news.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 1 percent of food stamp payments are obtained by fraudulent means.

People who are self-sufficient are receiving food stamp payments and it is often reported that items such as beer, cigarettes, food at casinos and trips to strip clubs are being purchased with food stamps.

Monitoring participants in SNAP has not been adequate and needs to be greatly improved.

There have been reports of lottery winners who are still able to obtain food stamp payments.

The food stamp program exempts home value, retirement income and other federal assistance payments, among other items, from income/asset qualification for the program.

People could actually live in a million-dollar home and qualify for food stamps if they have under $2,000 in the bank.

People with a generous retirement income would qualify for food stamps if they meet other criteria.

This is an area that needs to be reformed. We need to add a limit for home value, and retirement income should not be exempt from income-eligibility requirements.

Sixteen states give people $1 in home heating assistance so they can qualify for greater food stamp benefits. Many of the people receiving this assistance don’t even have heating bills. It is estimated that we can save $950 million yearly by closing this loophole.

Some states enroll applicants who exceed income restrictions if applicants are receiving other federal assistance. It is estimated we could save $1 billion annually by denying benefits to applicants who exceed eligibility requirements.

We must cut our massive deficit and bring our nation’s fiscal house in order or we will not have the resources to help those who need our assistance the most.

Debbie Dooley is national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots and an Atlanta Tea Party co-founder.

Get the facts on food stamps

By Bill Bolling

There are a lot of myths circulating about SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s bad enough that these tall tales stigmatize this food stamp program, but now they’re being used as justification for dangerous policy changes and funding cuts that would make it harder for struggling families.

We’ve all heard the myths. What about the facts?

SNAP is targeted at the most vulnerable households: 76 percent include a child, elderly person or disabled person, and 85 percent have a gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty line. Despite what you hear, benefits are not overly generous. The average participant gets a monthly benefit of just $134, less than $1.50 per meal.

The SNAP program has an accuracy rate of more than 97 percent in Georgia and 96 percent nationally. For every allegation of SNAP fraud, there are a hundred stories of heartbreaking need. These are the stories you don’t hear: a dad who struggles after losing his job; families who saw their life’s savings decimated by a child’s unexpected illness; a disabled veteran who can no longer work.

We know these stories because the people who turn to SNAP are often the same people served through the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s partner agencies. Many clients never thought they would need a helping hand, but now have nowhere else to turn.

In fact, due to the economic crisis, the Georgia Department of Human Resources has seen a tremendous increase in the numbers of households needing to access food stamps. The number grew from more than 400,000 in 2008 to nearly 900,000 in 2012.

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee released its draft of the farm bill that proposed $16.5 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next decade, threatening to gut food assistance for millions of low-income families.

And while the Senate version of the farm bill cuts SNAP by much less ($4.5 billion), the threats to hungry families still loom large.

Food insecurity is a national problem that isn’t going away any time soon, and it will continue to need a national solution.

The food bank has experienced a 70 percent increase in requests for food assistance over the past three years. One very effective way that we — and USDA — have dealt with the dramatic increase in need is to help raise awareness about food stamp eligibility. We’re making good headway in getting the word out, but many families still don’t know they qualify.

If the proposed cuts to SNAP were to be implemented, the increased demand on charities like ours would be crippling. We — and the partner agencies who receive food from us — are already struggling to keep up.

We understand the importance of getting our nation’s fiscal house in order. We strongly believe that a good- paying job is the best solution to hunger and poverty. But until opportunity and mobility is restored, our nation cannot turn away from our commitment to caring for neighbors in need.

More than one in four children in Georgia is food insecure. Would we be able to look at hungry children standing in front of us and tell them they’ll have to go without? If we pass a farm bill that severely cuts food stamps and other nutrition programs that provide such a critical safety net, that’s what we’ll be doing.

The political and organizational will to feed our people defines us and our times. As Congress continues to hash out the new farm bill, we expect the process to be dynamic.

Those who are concerned about the hungry but have been swayed by the fraud reports would do well to dive deeper and get the real facts. Feedingamerica.org has compiled a list of facts and myths from reliable resources.

Bill Bolling is executive director of the Atlanta Community Food Bank and chairman of the Georgia Food Bank Association.

44 comments Add your comment

B. Miller

July 14th, 2012
10:56 am

I believe that food assistance ought to be distributed by- ( churches, syngogues,temples,mosques) and certain clubs – YMCA , execise gyms, semi-pro ball teams , rotory club, optomist club, lions club ect., car clubs, motor cycle clubs . If the goverment allows institutions to give out the assistance and keep perfect records of it – these institutions will also by their nature tend to give spiritual -physical &emotional help as well.

middleground

July 13th, 2012
9:48 pm

Clem: That is the most brillant post ever in AJC history!

Clem

July 13th, 2012
4:04 pm

@dc
Exactly.

Why does the national park service post warnings not to feed the animals? It is so they won’t become dependent on that food and lose their ability to find food on their own.

Anthony DiTullio

July 12th, 2012
5:46 pm