Food Stamp Reform: Unethical or Overdue?

by Jessica Sommerfield · 18 comments

Recent proposals in Congress include a bill that would crack down on fraud and abuse within the $70-billion dollar government food stamp program (officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).

This is just one area on which lawmakers are focusing in the desperate need for budget cuts following the fiscal cliff and government shutdown. While the proposed cuts would save a mere $22 million, just a drop in the bucket of the billions that Congress needs to cut, it would still be a step in the direction of welfare reform. Many consider this to be long overdue, while some are outraged at the potential harm to the neediest members of our society.

The History of Food Stamps

The food stamp program, which has been in existence in some form since 1939, provides monthly funds designated for food purchases to qualifying families. Instead of stamps or coupons, most states now utilize EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards. Since 2007, the number of Americans receiving food stamps has increased 70%, rising to over 44 million people — nearly 15% of the population.

Abusing the System

While some lawmakers are pushing for reform of the eligibility requirements, the main focus of the proposed bill is cutting out fraud and abuses in the system. Some ways people can abuse the system include: asking for multiple replacement cards, receiving benefits from different states or under different names, using stolen identities for benefits, and, as was recently displayed during the shutdown, taking advantage of EBT glitches that inflate spending limits.

The investigation that led to to the bill revealed that one of the largest abuses is by retailers. Some smaller privately-owned businesses have been using food stamp benefits to barter for items such as drugs and firearms. The bill proposes that the federal government work more closely with state agencies to identify and stop fraud and abuse among these small businesses.

Two Sides of the Fence

There are, as usual, two very strong opinions on SNAP reform. In general, Democrats oppose cuts to the food stamp program, insisting that a balanced budget isn’t worth increasing the burden on a part of society that’s already struggling. Most Republicans want to reform SNAP and other welfare programs so that citizens are motivated to eliminate their dependance on government subsidies.

In my opinion, a decrease in government-provided benefits may bolster support for and involvement with private organizations that do the same thing (in many cases, much more efficiently and personally).

Whatever side you’re on, you should keep your eyes on this H.R. 3102 in the following months. It’ll be interesting to see what lawmakers decide to do about food stamp reform as part of their grander efforts to cut federal spending.

What do you think about food stamp reform? Is it unethical or overdue?

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  • Devin says:

    It’s amazing how many of the posters on here are so naive. I work part time in a grocery store and the abuse is rampant. I can see the amount they have on their SNAP cards when they come through and often it’s in 4 figures. Those people eat much better than the poor clerks who have to put up with them. Plus, they sell their benefits for booze and drugs.

    Welfare is the high life in America. Why work?

    • Jayne says:

      Hi, Devin, If you personally have evidence of anyone who has sold their benefits for “booze and drugs” you should do your civic duty and report them to help make the system work for those who need it. If you don’t personally know then it’s a pretty cruel assumption to make.

  • Marcia says:

    Well, I can understand the desire to eliminate fraud. The question is, will it cost more to eliminate fraud than you save?

    Everyone knows someone who knows someone who is “abusing the system”. However I personally don’t know anyone who abuses the system. People talk about steaks and nice cars and the like – but you really don’t know the details of the situation.

    When we talk about welfare reform and that people who need to work, we really all are yakking about it but forgetting about the children. When we talk about food stamps? We are talking about feeding children. When we talk about dead beats on welfare who don’t work? We are talking about children – namely how do you afford to work a low-wage job AND pay for rent AND pay for childcare.

  • property marbella says:

    Food stamps are needed for the poor people, but the whole system needs to be redone. Congress can find budget savings in the defense and the armed forces as they are abroad, taking home all from Afghanistan, Pakistan soldiers etc. Then all the funding will be much better.

  • AD says:

    Our very wealthy and over nourished country can afford to feed and care for its poor and vulnerable. We pay taxes for the “general welfare.” We educate other people’s kids in public schools. We can certainly make sure they are fed. FORTY percent of food assistance is for children. We can let go of that ridiculous concern that they will become “dependent”; of course they are dependent upon us – they are children. We are all interdependent, folks. Stop pretending to be independent. No one is. Everyone was dependent, is now dependent on others, and will become obviously dependent again when old or sick.
    Some seem to forget that the large numbers of working poor earning minimum wage can’t reliably provide for themselves or their their families. Try paying for housing, utilities and food with take home pay for a full-time min wage job ($7/hr x 40 hrs = $1120/month Gross or about $700/month Net). Hell, try doing it with twice the pay – $1,400 net. With a 15% poverty rate in our country and the continued effects of the Great Recession, how can anyone not understand why the numbers of people asking for assistance to feed themselves and their family have gone up?
    Have we become so heartless? So cynical? Have Christians become so unchristian?

  • Tim says:

    I don’t think they should take money out of the budget for the program, but they definitely need to weed out all the fraud and abusers of the system so that the people that actually do need help can get it.

  • tk says:

    It is a start. This system is so full of fraud and waste. I have neighbors that receive assistance and they both work full-time, own a house, have 4 cars and I cannot believe that they even qualified to receive it. Now, they get it for another year before they are checked again. It really pi$$es me off and people are getting tired of it.

  • Levi Blackman says:

    I have tried to get food stamps and found the process very difficult, and then I didn’t qualify because I made a dollar over minimum wage. I think anyone desperate enough to go through the process and actually qualifies should probably get some assistance to eat.

  • Steve says:

    Why don’t they tighten up the system to eliminate fraud. That being said, they shouldn’t cut back the aid they provide the poor. Funny how republicans want to cut out the fraud and abuse by the poor, even though it is only$22m, which is a needle head in the total budget. Yet, they don’t mind the corporate welfare that benefits their constituents in the business world. The subsidies that are paid to rich business owners dwarfs the welfare costs. In agriculture alone, billionaires get government subsidies for their investments farms that have low income. Huge corporations do not even pay any taxes. We the taxpayer foot these bills. So if they were serious about cutting spending in light of this mythical “fiscal cliff”, they would get serious and do some real cutting. Leave the poor alone. And yes, it is unethical. But, unethical republican is redundant, isn’t it?

  • blanca says:

    once again… lets take from the poor.they are gonna have a lot more hungry people at their door on the streets and committing crimes for foo d… why don’t they give these people a job instead of food stamps that you have to reapply for every month

    • dojo says:

      Because many can’t be bothered to work. We have a similar situation in my country, where a pretty hefty percentage of the people on welfare (we don’t have food stamps, but there are various ways to help them) don’t deserve this. Let’s see:

      1. people who retired early because of health issues. They bribed the doctors and are actually able to work, but the papers ‘say’ they’re too sick to work anymore.
      2. people who collect unemployment after not being able to get into college. They NEVER worked an hour in their lives, but their parents get them into the system, instead of sending their lazy behinds to work.
      3. disabled people. We had some pretty funny stories here with the inhabitants of a small village in my country, where ALL the adults were legally blind (at least in the papers) and were driving their cars with no problems (and of course saw perfectly :))
      4. people who claim social benefits because they’re poor, but come with luxury cars and own at least 2-3 houses in the city.
      5. women who give birth every 2 years, since the state is giving some money for each kid in the first 24 months of their lives etc.

      Well most of these people CAN and SHOULD work, but won’t be bothered, as long as the system is broken. At the same time, people like me and you work a lot, pay insane taxes and never claimed a day of unemployment. I’m actually paying for my healthcare out of my pocket, just to go to private clinics (the state hospitals are horror places), even if I’ve paid for taxes/insurances since I was 20.

      So yes, if they can find out the abusers and get their paws of the ‘cake’, there’s nothing wrong with it. The people who really need support would receive it easier, while the abled ones, should move their behinds to work and stop expecting others to care for them.

  • Turned-my-life-around says:

    I have to wonder how much of the $70 billion is going to fraud, especially after following someone out of the grocery store who just used their EBT card to pay for groceries, only to load them up in a shiny new pickup truck. I say make everyone reapply every 6 months no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I’m not sure what the criteria is for qualifying, but apparently it’s way, way too easy!

    • Steve says:

      That person with the shiny pick up truck may have lost their job recently and is looking to get back work. So maybe they will need that shiny truck when they get back on their feet. Did you check to see if they bought a bottle of coke for their kids, so you can criticize that as well. I think it is so ironic that those who want government out of our lives, I.e., republicans, are the first who want to impose controls on others. Welfare, women’s bodies, ability to get married if gay, etc. they have no problem in asking the government to step in and get involved. More hypocrisy on the right…..

      • Logan says:

        @Steve, agreed. The vehicle could have been borrowed for all anyone knows, it happens. I believe it’s very unfair to judge someone’s situation based on the vehicle they drove to the grocery store.

        I don’t think that by cutting $22m from the budget addresses any of the problems with the program. Are there people that abuse the program? I’m sure there are a few out there, but it’s not a cut and dry situation. In my opinion they should revisit the guidelines, fix any problems there may be and then, and only then, adjust the budget accordingly. Let’s not punish the ones that truly need this program.

  • Kostas @ Finance Zone says:

    There are definitely those that abuse the system, but I’m aware of situations where an individual’s working hard to move in a positive direction with their life yet is still struggling. The assistance from food stamps, which truly isn’t much, makes a huge difference. I’m not sure what the answer is, but there has to be something to weed out the abusers.

  • adele says:

    People panicked about welfare reform and it actually was a good and necessary thing (and a different legislative era, apparently). I want there to be safety nets. And yet there is a point where dependence can set in, and that helps no one, especially kids raised in that environment. Any program, including corporate subsidies, ought to be reevaluated periodically and tickered with accordingly.

  • jp @cashsnail says:

    On the other side, 70 billion a year could be covered for 10 years just by the war in Iraq costs. So it’s a matter of priority…

  • John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    I actually wrote about this a month or so ago. It was after the news went viral of some surfer in San Diego that was abusing the system. I don’t know what the answer is as I don’t know how it can be done without impacting those who truly do need it. That said, I think there does need to be some reform, but don’t know how it could be done and hurt those who it is meant to help.

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