Food Stamp Budget Cuts: Abuse or Neglect?

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

The Huffington Post released an article in late October stating that Democrats are protesting proposed food stamp reduction. I thought this was an interesting debate issue because I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it. Republicans are claiming that the system is being abused and therefore, the US should reduce the budget of such programs. While Democrats are claiming that reducing the budget will cause those on these meal plans to drop below $4.50/day. In response to these proposed budget cuts, some Democrats are protesting by eating off of $4.50 per day to see how hard it really is.

Okay, so here’s how I’m breaking this whole issue down. First off, the Republicans are correct in that there are too many instances of people taking advantage of the system. I have seen this first hand when I worked at Women Infants & Children (WIC) during my RD rotations. In two weeks, I probably saw 3 BMW’s or Mercedes drop off WIC participants. I can’t tell you how angry this made me. I was surviving on about $100-120 a month for food (equivalent to what participants were receiving) and these people had figured out how to beat the system. That being said, the other 300 or so participants that I saw come in the door truly needed the help. It’s not right to turn those people away because a small percentage are abusing the system.

Now on the other hand. Democrats are trying to eat on $4.50/day. Sounds like nothing, right? I mean a Starbucks coffee costs that much these days.  Well, I’m kind of anal about my personal finances and have everything perfectly budgeted so that I can pay off some school loans early AND save up for a house. So let’s just say I stretch my budget as tight as it can possibly go. For the two of us, we spend $310/month on food.  That comes to a whopping $5.17/person/day. Now we are both small people and don’t need 2000 calories a day. If I had to feed a teenage boy, this wouldn’t be feasible.  We use mostly fresh produce and minimize packaged foods somewhat. We still buy mac n’ cheese for those nights that are just too jam packed to fix dinner (I know, that stuff will kill you… ). Considering I can do it for $5/day and food stamps are meant to supplement income used on food NOT replace income… I think $4.50 is reasonable. To cut it down to $4/day or less… well, I’m not in favor of that.

So who’s right in all of this? My opinion, neither party.  I think they should make minor cuts to the program benefits (I’m talking a few pennies a day per household), and that money should be used to better regulate and/or reformat the program. The program itself will not see any budget cuts but by better regulating the program, in time, the abusers will be weeded out and those who are in the greatest need can get real help. Simple things can be done, such as training of program staff to spot abusers and then more staff to do something about the abuse.  According the article above, 19 million households participate in the program (note: households, not individuals). If 2 cents are take per day per household ($0.60/month), that amounts to $11 million a month! Talk about job creation…. It will take time to fix the problem this way, but let’s actually fix the problem, not just stick a band-aid on it.

Okay, I’m off my soapbox, does anyone else have different feelings? Or the same? Please feel free to comment on your own soapbox!

On a side note – it’s no longer called the Food Stamp Program, it’s now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. But I know most people still think of the program in terms of food stamps.